Paul Gauguin paintings are often controversial. During Gauguin's time in Tahiti, the artist painted many images of young nude women. For Gauguin, the women were beautiful but they were also a symbol of fertility and primitivism.

Many of these images have been on display in both the United States and England as part of the Gauguin: Maker of Myth show. This collection has, for the most part, been enthusiastically received. But for one woman visiting the show in Washington, DC, these images were simply too much to bear.

The woman stood before the Gauguin painting Two Tahitian Women. According to witnesses, the woman began screaming, "This is evil" while she attempted to pull the painting off the wall and destroy it with her fists. The woman was restrained by other visitors to the museum, and was then removed by security personnel. Plexiglas protected the painting itself, so no damage was immediately apparent. The Gauguin painting is being examined more closely now, to determine if any repairs need be made. The woman faces charges of destruction of property and attempted theft.

The attacker has made no public statements about her crime at this point, so it is unclear why she attacked the Gauguin painting and why this particular image was singled out for particular scorn. The painting does depict frank female nudity. Both young women are topless and make no attempt to cover their nudity. One woman holds ripe fruit in her hands, while the other holds flowers in blossom. The symbolism here is quite clear. The women are ripe and flowering, just like the objects they hold. It is unclear, however, why this particular painting would cause this museum visitor so much anger. Many other Gauguin paintings from this exhibit contain completely nude women in sexual poses. If nudity was a problem, this seems an odd target. Further, some Gauguin paintings seem to depict women seeming uncomfortable or oddly objectified. These Gauguin paintings often spark discussions about the role of women in painting, and whether Gauguin meant to paint them as innocents or whether he was attempting to paint himself as an exploiter of women, and therefore make the viewer a tacit accomplice.

Gauguin paintings are thought provoking, to be sure, and viewers are often drawn to extremes by their bright colors and exotic subject matter. We encourage you to browse our collection of Gauguin paintings and make your own decisions. Perhaps you'll find them too exotic for your tastes. Or, perhaps you'll share Gauguin's vision and see the beauty in the images of the young, wild and primitive landscape and the people in it.