Nevermore, the enigmatic oil on canvas painting by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin in 1897 depicts a nude Tahitian woman, possibly the artist’s teenage native wife, Pahura, whose voluptuous figure echoed by the curves of the headboard. Like all the other island girls painted by Gauguin, the woman in Nevermore has the interesting skin colour brown accentuated with green with slight hints of salmon pink, and her black hair is casually spilt on the bright lemon yellow pillow. With her head resting on her hand and her lips turned upwards, as if sulking, she seems to be bored at first sight.
Her facial expression and the mystic mood compel the viewer to take a minute look at her, and it becomes clear that the curvy outline of her body separates the foreground from the background. Apart from that, two mysterious human figures and a raven can be seen in the background behind the bed. It seems that the two puzzling figures in the background, along with the raven, the ‘bird of the devil, are keeping watch and conspiring against the reclining woman as she lies awake, perhaps conscious of being watched. Nevermore, the title of the work is painted in relatively large capitals in the top left-hand corner, and the presence of the raven is an obvious reference to Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 poem The Raven, which was recited at the farewell party of Gauguin in 1891, before his first departure to the Polynesian islands.
In Nevermore, Gauguin was not interested in painting the external reality of his subject, and it is not an accurate transcription from life. In the work the girl lies in an awkward pose with her right hip strangely distorted and elevated. Her ample breasts are only partially covered by her right arm, and her face is cupped in her left hand. However, Gauguin intended to lead the viewer away from the world of reality. He wanted to portray the Tahiti and women as he saw them, not necessarily a photo-like representation, but as possessing something mysterious and penetrating.
Gauguin was separated from his Danish wife, Mette-Sophie Gad, whom he last saw in 1891 before his first trip to French Polynesia. In 1895 he left Europe for Tahiti for the final time as he felt a need to physically escape the western world which he deemed as materialistic and decadent and find solace in Tahiti, which seemed to him a paradise in his imagination. He created Nevermore a little while after he had received news of the tragic death of his beloved daughter, Aline, in April 1897. In between, when he returned to Tahiti in 1895, he found his old wife married to a fellow native, and found a new wife in fifteen years old Pahura. She was Gauguin’s greatest muse and stayed with him, on and off, for six years. A girl was born to them around Christmas 1896, which delighted Gauguin, but sadly she died soon afterward. During that period of despair when he lost both the daughters, Gauguin painted, sculpted and wrote a great deal, including Nevermore, where he painted Pahura in a state of sadness after the loss of her child, her eyes are soft with sorrow.
The painting was named after the famous poem Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, in which the only word that the Raven says is Nevermore. Gauguin’s painting also has a nocturnal ambience, like the poem after which it is named, imbued with feelings of mystery and loss.
Nevermore was not critically received during Gauguin’s lifetime mainly due to the distance separating Tahiti from the centre of the artistic world, Paris. However, after his death, Gauguin's total body of work, including Nevermore, enjoyed widespread critical approval. Nevermore was first purchased by British composer Frederick Delius for 500 Francs from George-Daniel de Monfreid, an art collector and a friend of Gauguin. After that, it was bought by Samuel Courtauld, a rich businessman, in 1926. Today, it is housed in the Courtauld Gallery, an art museum in central London.