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The Rape of Europa (L’Enlèvement d’Europa)

Despite its South Seas locale, this print refers to an episode from Greek mythology in which Zeus transformed himself into a bull in order to carry off the beautiful princess Europa. During his visits to Tahiti in the 1890s and his final years in the Marquesas Islands, Paul Gauguin frequently created images based in Western religion or mythology, but placed within an Oceanic context. The carving style of this woodcut suggests Gauguin’s interest in Polynesian reliefs from which he made rubbings. The image of the peahen in the upper right is repeated in his print The Gods (1899). This large-scale woodcut is one of only about thirty impressions thought to have been printed while he was on the island. The crudity, exoticism, and mystery of such works helped to inspire a revival of the woodcut medium and to set the stage for the Expressionist printmakers who followed.

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes two additional prints that show Gauguin’s Polynesian influences: The Devil Speaks, from the “Nao Nao” series (Eskenazi Museum of Art 79.97) and La Orana Maria (Eskenazi Museum of Art 81.31.24).

Paul Gauguin
French, 1848–1903
The Rape of Europa (L’Enlèvement d’Europa)
1898–99
Woodcut on paper
Image: 9 1/8 x 8 7/8 in. (23.2 x 22.5 cm); sheet: 9 3/8 x 8 7/8 in. (23.8 x 22.5 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 77.32.2