In March 1892, Paul Gauguin, in a letter to a friend, described the painting he had recently completed: “An angel with yellow wings reveals Mary and Jesus to two Tahitian women, naked except for a pareo, a piece of cotton fabric with a floral pattern tied around the waist. In the background are very dark, gloomy mountains and blossoming trees. A dark purple path and an emerald green foreground with bananas on the left. I’m quite happy with it.” The artist titled the painting “Ia Orana Maria” (in Tahitian, it means “Hail Mary”), and to a certain extent it became the personification of Gauguin’s endless passion for everything exotic.
The artist used to set biblical scenes to the realities completely unusual for them, only this time instead of Breton peasant women he painted dark-skinned Tahitian women with bare breasts. When Gauguin presented this painting at an exhibition in Paris in 1893, it made a lot of noise. Even for the sophisticated Parisian public, the dark-skinned Virgin Mary in a bright pareo and the naked baby Jesus sitting on her shoulder instead of peacefully resting in her arms, were unusual, to put it mildly. Let alone the magi, which in Gauguin’s picture are portrayed as half-naked women. The artwork, however, found its buyer — it was purchased by the collector Michel Manzi for two thousand francs.
The short period of his life in Paris was not the best one for Gauguin. He was desperately eager to return to his paradise island, perfectly realizing that this place was not and will never be the same as it was in his dreams and on his canvases. However in France, the artist painted colourful Tahitian landscapes and dark Maori bodies over and over again. In 1894, he again turned to the theme of the Ia Orana Maria painting, and created an amazing watercolor of the same name, depicting only Mary and the Baby protected by ghostly wings.