Gauguin was compelled by a lifelong quest for spiritual enrichment and believed in the universality of religion. His first artistic exploration of religious themes was in Brittany, a rural province in northwest France where Christian and Celtic traditions intertwined. Gauguin's paintings of Breton worshippers count among his most formally innovative canvases. The clearly outlined, flat shapes and bold patches of unnatural color represent a movement away from reality and toward abstraction to evoke states of mind.
When Gauguin arrived in Tahiti in 1891 he discovered that European missionaries had successfully converted much of the population to Christianity and the traditional religion of the island was rapidly vanishing. Through his art he attempted to resurrect the lost religion, depicting Oceanic deities and creating idol-like sculptures. Faced with little surviving evidence of their appearance, Gauguin looked to religious imagery from other cultures — especially Hinduism and Buddhism — for guidance. Gauguin, however, never lost sight of the Christian stories, frequently transposing them to Polynesian settings.