Critics have argued whether Gauguin made a simple spelling error in the title, as Matamua would have translated to "Once upon a time" whereas Matamoe's translation is "death".
The consensus is that Gauguin's spelling was correct as Gauguin had been "reborn". He was no longer the civilized European man that arrived on Tahiti's shores.
This wonderful, simplistic, primitive scene of a tropical paradise was inspired by the artist's first stay in Tahiti.
Shortly after his arrival in Tahiti, Gauguin wrote about seeing a young man with an axe above his head, about to chop a diseased coconut tree.
Gauguin described the colours that he saw both in the axe and the space surrounding it. This vision of the man with an axe appears in another image, Man with Axe, 1891.
In Matamoe, the viewer is given a slice of tropical life, in a cleared area of dense tropical forest is a hut with two figures beside it.
In the foreground a man raises an axe above his head and is about to chop the fallen tree on the floor. Beside him a small fire is burning, two peacocks are walking by.
Gauguin was skilled in his use of colour and in this picture he draws the viewer's eye up from the strolling peacocks, up through the raised axe and up the elongated palms. Gauguin was less concerned with the depth in his picture but constructed the planes carefully.
Matamoe is now housed in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia and is regarded as one of Gauguin's finest paintings.
Although Gauguin didn't achieve the recognition his work deserved during his lifetime, his images inspired many other artists and continue to do so. Enchanting and entrancing, Gauguin's vision of island life has been preserved forever in this piece.