Ia Orana Maria (Hail Mary), 1891
Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903)
Oil on canvas; 44 3/4 x 34 1/2 in. (113.7 x 87.6 cm)
Signed, dated, and inscribed: (lower right) P Gauguin 91; (lower left) IA ORANA MARIA (Hail Mary)
Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951 (51.112.2)
Before embarking on a series of pictures inspired by Polynesian religious beliefs, Gauguin devoted this, his first major Tahitian canvas, to a Christian theme, describing it in a letter of March 1892: "An angel with yellow wings reveals Mary and Jesus, both Tahitians, to two Tahitian women, nudes dressed in pareus, a sort of cotton cloth printed with flowers that can be draped from the waist. Very somber, mountainous background and flowering trees . . . a dark violet path and an emerald green foreground, with bananas on the left. I'm rather happy with it." Gauguin based much of the composition on a photograph he owned of a bas-relief in the Javanese temple of Borobudur.