Gauguin continued the Western tradition of yearning for both the Paradise of biblical literature and the Arcadia of classical antiquity. He believed that the way forward in art was by looking back at more primitive societies, which he dreamed of as places of light-filled warmth, abundance, love, and sexual freedom — a dream designed in direct counterpoint to what he perceived as the overly commercial, decadent, modern Europe. A five-month stay in Martinique in 1887 provided Gauguin his first opportunity to paint in the tropics. In Paris two years later, he was enthralled by the exhibits of non-Western cultures at the World's Fair, where pavilions dedicated to Java, Tahiti, Cambodia, and Tonkin (Vietnam) further fueled his desire for another journey. He dreamed of a tropical paradise, writing rapturously to a friend: “...in a winterless sky, on marvelously fertile soil, the Tahitian just has to raise his arms up to gather his food... for them, to live is to sing and love.”
In June of 1891, Gauguin finally arrived in Tahiti (then a French colony) and began producing images of native women, many of which celebrated a healthy, unrestrained sensuality, free from notions of shame and guilt. Scenes of physical labor and contemporary colonial culture are generally absent from Gauguin's oeuvre, promoting a timeless world of quiet languor. Aside from a two-year return to France (1893 – 1895), Gauguin would spend the rest of his life in Polynesia, living mostly in Tahiti before retreating to the more remote Marquesas Islands.