Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)
oil on coarse fabric
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Tahitian for sleeping eyes, matamoe also means death; arii refers to the ancient noble line of native chieftans. When Gauguin exhibited the painting in Paris, he offered the French title La fin royale (The Royal End). Both the Tahitian and French titles suggest that the painting was a response to the passing of the last of the Tahitian kings, Pomare V, who died within days of Gauguin's arrival in the Tahitian capital of Papeete. The severed head is Gauguin's invention — perhaps an allusion to John the Baptist — as Pomare was not decapitated. For Gauguin, Pomare's death symbolized the loss of Tahitian culture in the wake of French colonialism. "There was one king less," he observed, "and with him disappeared the last remains of Maori customs. It was well and truly over, nothing left but civilized people. I was sad: to have come so far..."