Martinique: In Gauguin's Footsteps

By Vickers, Philip | Contemporary Review, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Martinique: In Gauguin's Footsteps

Vickers, Philip, Contemporary Review

In the Gauguin literature Martinique does not figure as evidently as does Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands or Brittany and yet, in a certain sense, Martinique was perhaps the most influential of all his experiences. It has been my privilege and opportunity to follow in Gauguin's footsteps in that Caribbean island and to have become familiar, to that degree still possible today, with some of the sights and sounds and, indeed, echoes of his experience just over one hundred years ago. While there are no footprints in the sands, there is much which still recalls his stay.

Paul Gauguin, and his painter companion Charles Laval, arrived on Martinique in mid-June 1887 just following their somewhat disastrous period in Panama. They stayed for about five months, arriving back in France in November the same year. According to different authorities he is said to have completed either ten, or twelve or twenty canvasses during his stay. Dating and accreditation are difficult because not a few canvasses by the hand of his friend Laval have had Gauguin's signature added to them in subsequent years. During his stay in Martinique Gauguin wrote to his wife Mette three times and twice to his friend Emile Schuffennecker. Initially, all went well. Gauguin was delighted with the 'negro hut' he had acquired and was totally captivated by the life of the 'negroes and negresses. . . milling around all day singing their Creole songs and (their) perpetual chatter'. Nature, the climate, the 'sea fringed with cocoa trees. . . (and) all sorts of fruit trees', their site only five minutes from the town (St. Pierre) were all truly idyllic. The fact that he had contracted dysentery and marsh fever soon became evident however. Laval succumbed too and, in a fit of depression, attempted suicide. Indeed, the romantic hut leaked in the torrential rain storms and, when the sun blazed down, the island steamed and the humidity rose. The total absence of drains resulted in mounds of refuse decaying in the sun. Malaria and yellow fever were endemic. In spite of illness and privation, however, the charm of Martinique, and particularly of its inhabitants, had seized Gauguin and their influence was never to leave him. It was to give birth to much of his most admired work, including some of the later masterpieces of Tahiti and the Marquesas.

There are perhaps two key paintings from Martinique which can set the scene for a review of his work there and which link directly with the visible experience today: Vegetation Tropicale (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) and Bord de Mer I (La Plage de l'Anse Turin, Carbet; Carlsberg Museum, Copenhagen). To reach these scenes, however, let us retrace his footsteps. He arrived in St. Pierre, the capital, some 4 miles to the north of La Carbet where he settled. At this time St. Pierre was a thriving town and was known as the 'Paris of the West Indies'. A visit to the Frank Perret Museum of vulcanography today tells all you need to know of the disastrous 1909 eruption of Mr. Pelee which destroyed the town in the space of three minutes as a result of the 300 mile an hour wind carrying ashes raised to hundreds of degrees centigrade. All but one of the town's 30,000 inhabitants were killed, the sole survivor being a prisoner in the town dungeon. All the La Carbet homes were also destroyed. But, in 1878 it was indeed a cultivated place and Gauguin's address there was c/o M. Victor Dominique, 30 rue Victor Hugo. Today the street remains a narrow, distressed thoroughfare with deep storm drains either side of the road, crammed with unsuitable heavy traffic. The road south leads you to La Carbet and here you can retrace Gauguin's footsteps. One significant change in the route, and the landscape, is the tunnel just north of the beach which has been driven through the cliffs bordering the coast at this point. This apart, you pass through the semi-tropical landscape of Martinique, rich in exotic flowers and immense trees, bamboos and ferns, skirting the Caribbean dotted with red and blue fishing boats, the road itself perched just above the grey, volcanic strands beneath the shadow of Mr. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Martinique: In Gauguin's Footsteps


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.