The Moon and the Earth is Paul Gaugin’s interpretation of an ancient Polynesian myth, in which Hina, the female spirit of the Moon, implores Fatou, the male spirit of the Earth, to grant humans eternal life. Fatou resolutely denies Hina’s request. Gaugin’s depiction of Hina and Fatou—marked by great disparity in their size, scale, and coloration—emphasizes their ancient quarrel. Hina stands nude in the foreground, facing Fatou, who looms commandingly in the background. Her upraised arms suggest supplication, while his severe, stone-like face indicates that he remains unmoved by her entreaties. This dramatic scene takes place in a lush, dreamlike landscape setting.
Gauguin’s pioneering use of expressive colors, flat planes, and simplified, distorted forms, and his merging of abstraction and representation, influenced fellow avant-garde artists in the early 20th century. He painted The Moon and the Earth when he was living in Tahiti, a colony of his native France, where he sought to realize his dream of finding an earthly paradise. Born in Paris, Gauguin spent his early childhood in Lima, Peru. This formative experience would lead him to shape an image of himself as a “savage,” a self-identification reflecting his idealizing and derogatory view of the non-Western people and cultures by which he was influenced. It also inclined him to settle for extended periods in different parts of the world, most famously Tahiti.
The Moon and the Earth reflects the exoticism that Gauguin sought in Tahiti. This and the other works he made there were not so much a representation of what he saw as an idealized projection of what he had hoped he would find.