World History 1891

About the history of the world in 1891, the first public motion picture is shown, Gauguin moves to Tahiti.

TWO CENTURIES OF WORLD HISTORY: 1778-1978

1891

* French painter Paul Gauguin, 43, fed up with the distractions of Paris, auctioned off 30 of his paintings and sailed for Tahiti. Leaving his Danish wife and children behind in Copenhagen, he arrived at the capital of Papeete to a warm greeting by the French governor and the natives. But Gauguin found it difficult to get down to serious painting in the capital, so he went hut-hunting in the outlying area and rented a typical wood-and-reed structure under a roof of leaves riddled with harmless lizards. Settling into his new South Sea digs, the Frenchman, who had begun his career as a straitlaced Parisian banker, reveled in the simplicity of island life. He spent his days fishing and swimming in the coral-bound lagoon, collecting breadfruit with bare-breasted native girls, and chopping wood. At night Gauguin would defer to native custom and welcome one of the village maidens into his hut. Much as he delighted in the custom, the artist felt that such promiscuity hindered his work. Thus, he scoured the island for his own vahine ("woman"). His search turned up Tehura, a 13-or 14-year-old girl from the village of Faone. After a week's trial "marriage," (Gauguin was not divorced from his Danish wife), the young bride moved into Gauguin's hut as his wife and became the model for many of his paintings (Tahitian Woman, Day-dream, and The Spirit of the Dead Is Watching, among others). By 1893 Gauguin had produced more than 50 oils, many drawings, and even some wood sculpture. Working in flaming reds, blinding yellows, and vivid greens, he ignored the style of past masters, even going beyond the Impressionists. His work was not photographic, literal reproduction of the subject. Instead, he used his imagination and subjectivity to warp the canvas into a projection of his mind's eye. Despite the comfort of his craft, life on the island soon proved to be not all breadfruit and sex-under-the-mango-trees for Gauguin. He had shipped off some of his tropical work to his original wife for sale in Europe but never saw a franc. Each month he eagerly awaited the mail-boat from France, and more often than not returned with nothing. Thus, in April, 1893, he boxed up the remainder of his collection and set sail for Europe, as Tehura, barefoot, pregnant, and sad, waved farewell from shore. He returned to the tropics two years later and died bitter and broke on the Marquesas Islands in 1903.

May 22 The first public showing of motion pictures took place before a group of 147 representatives of the National Federation of Women's Clubs at Thomas Edison's workshop in West Orange, N. J. The film consisted of a polite man bowing, smiling, waving, and doffing his hat.

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