Daniel Wildenstein will include this watercolor in his forthcoming Gauguin catalogue raisonné.
With only four francs left in his pockets, Gauguin returned to France at the end of August 1893 from his first stay in Tahiti. He took rooms in Paris and in mid-September persuaded the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel to hold a one-man show of his recent paintings and sculptures. While he was selecting between forty and fifty paintings, retouching some of them and putting them in simple white frames, he began writing Noa Noa in which he hoped to explain his Tahitian pictures to the public. Gauguin's exhibition at Durand-Ruel opened on 10 November, and when it closed two weeks later, he had sold only eleven paintings, including two puchased by Edgar Degas, who helped organize the show. Although the sales were disappointing, and reviews were mixed, Gauguin felt the press had treated him with proper seriousness and some measure of understanding.
Gauguin moved to larger quarters in January 1894, which he decorated with his own paintings and sculptures, creating an environment he called his "Studio of the South Seas." He held private viewings, and the significance of his Tahitian works became better known, especially among young artists. He took in Annah, known as "La Javanaise", who was actually a young Ceylonese girl whom he met through Ambroise Vollard. At the end of April they left for Brittany to visit his painter friends. While in Concarneau he was injured in a brawl with some local sailors and was unable to paint as he had planned, and instead worked on woodcuts for Noa Noa and watercolors. He returned to Paris in November and held an exhibition in his studio the following month.
Gauguin's output of paintings during this year consisted mainly of Breton subjects, and four works that were recollections of Tahiti. The present watercolor is related to one of the latter, Arearea no varua ino, translated into French as Sous l'empire du revenant (see fig.). Gauguin modified the pose of the girl on the right, who is possessed by a sinister spirit, and clothed her in a blouse for the painting. The pose of the girl, who observes from the left, was incorporated into the final composition much as she appears here. She was probably derived from the left hand figure in the well-known painting Deux femmes sur la plage, painted in Tahiti in 1891 (Wildenstein, no. 434; coll. Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
In executing Arearea no varua ino, Gauguin positioned the figure of a male deity in place of the native hut seen in the present watercolor. This idol, a composite of the Tahitian goddess Hina and Southeast Asian temple figures, also appears in a related watercolor transfer bearing the same title as the painting (R.S. Field, Paul Gauguin Monotypes, exh. cat, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, no. 8). Gauguin also depicted the seated girl in a second watercolor transfer, Parau no varua (Field, no. 9). The present watercolor is probably the earliest version of this subject among these related works.
Fig. Paul Gauguin, Arearea no varua ino, 1894, Wildenstein (1964) no. 514; coll. Ny Carlsberg Gyptotek, Copenhagen