The Loss of Virginity

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Paul Gauguin
French (1848–1903)
The Loss of Virginity, 1890–91
Oil on canvas

Compared with the traditional and often sentimental subjects reserved for images of women in late-19th-century French art, the theme of Gauguin’s painting — the loss of sexual innocence — must have seemed shocking. The painting’s blunt, schematic style — the broad, flat bands of bright color bounded by dark outlines — must have seemed equally radical, reflecting the artist’s interest in the avant-garde aesthetic known as Synthetism.  Following the dictates of Synthetism, Gauguin rejected realistic representation for a more purely Symbolist approach to form, using the colors, shapes, and objects of the visible world as subjective allusions to ideas and moods.

The woman who modeled for The Loss of Virginity — a young seamstress named Juliette Huet — was Gauguin’s mistress at the time. The artist met Huet in Paris in 1890, and though she was pregnant with his daughter, he abandoned her when he departed the following year for Tahiti.