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Leave it all behind and head to Tahiti

mardi 11 juillet 2017

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  • Pêcheurs de nacre à Tahiti, Yvonne de Saint-Cyr, musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac
    Pearl fishers in Tahiti, Yvonne de Saint-Cyr, Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac
    (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac) / Daniel Arnaudet

Evoking Tahiti means sparking colours, intoxicating smells, an expected languor and a wide range of imagery concerning the gentleness of life, inherited from the works of travel writers and poets and interpreted by painters and photographers.

English explorer Samuel Wallis discovered the island of Tahiti on 18 June 1767, but it was his French navigator Bougainville who named it "New Cytherea", to whom we owe the myth of an earthly paradise. In his travel journal entitled "Voyage Around the World", he describes a Tahitian society cut off from the rhythms of work and oriented towards a quest for pleasure: "I thought I was transported into the garden of Eden; we crossed a turf; covered with fine fruit-trees, and intersected by little rivulets which keep up a pleasant coolness in the air, without any of those inconveniences which humidity occasions. A numerous people there enjoy the blessings which nature showers liberally down upon them."

The love affair of explorers with Tahiti had begun

James Cook, Herman Melville, Robert-Louis Stevenson all fell under the spell of the Pacific atoll. Paul Gauguin visited the island a number of times and produced several masterpieces inspired by the island and its flora. His journal Noa Noa demonstrates his amazement at his discovery of its nature and his love for the Maori civilisation.

Following in his footsteps, Victor Ségalen told of his meetings with the Aboriginals and manifested his fears that their knowledge and customs would disappear through proximity to western culture. "It was time to repeat incessantly, so as not to lose a single word of the beautiful original tongue: the masters assure us that it contains blossoming worlds, the birth of the stars, the moulding of human life, the ruts and monstrous labour of the Maori gods." 

In the 20th century, Romain Gary, Jean Reverzy, and Roger Parry helped to maintain the myth of this island of dreams, a postcard in which you can drop anchor.

In anticipation of the Grand Palais exhibition on Gauguin this October, here is a selection of works to launch your voyage.