The piece’s original name in Tahitian is Te aa no areois. It was painted in oil on burlap and is now housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Gauguin travelled to Tahiti in the spring of 1891. He imagined an island paradise untouched by the modern world, but when he arrived he found Tahiti profoundly changed by French colonisation and plagued by poverty and disease.
His subsequent paintings depict his idealised vision of Tahiti as a land of natural beauty and relaxation in sharp contrast with his vision of the West, which he believed was slowly decaying.
In The Seed of the Areoi Gauguin has painted his Tahitian mistress, Tehura, as the goddess Vairaumat holding a flowering seed as a symbol of fertility. According to Polynesian mythology, she was the wife of ‘Oro, the god of war, and gave birth to a powerful chieftain.
This lead to the founding of the secret warrior society of the Areoi.
Though his travels to Tahiti are clearly the main inspiration for this painting, a range of influences from across the globe are evident in it. The pose of the subject is reminiscent of Egyptian art, while the positioning of the arms is similar to that seen in Javanese reliefs.
The flat colours and lack of shadows are characteristic of Japanese paintings, but the colour palette itself is typical of Gauguin’s work in this period, though he claims it was directly inspired by the Tahitian landscape.
This combination of elements makes Gauguin’s style very distinctive and sets it apart from that of the Impressionists.
Though he was not well-recognised for this in his lifetime, Gauguin is now considered a post-Impressionist painter. His paintings laid some of the ground work for the Primitivist style and had a great influence on the next generation of Fauvist and German Expressionist artists.