About This Artwork

Paul Gauguin
French, 1848-1903

Mahana no atua (Day of the God), 1894

Oil on linen canvas
68 x 91 cm (26 7/8 x 36 in.)

Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.198

Day of the God is one of a small number of paintings of Tahitian subjects that Paul Gauguin made in France between his stays in the South Pacific. An imaginary rather than realistic depiction of the South Seas, it is dominated by an idol of the goddess Hina. To the right of her, women dance the upaupa, a suggestive ancient Tahitian dance that missionaries and colonial authorities tried to suppress. In a middle ground of pink sand sits a female bather flanked by ambiguously gendered figures lying on their sides. Although the arrangement of this trio seems symbolic—perhaps of birth, life, and death—Gauguin made its exact meaning an enigma.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Boston, Art Club, 1925.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh, November 1929, cat. 46 (ill).

The Art Institute of Chicago, Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June 1–November 1, 1933, cat. 355.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June 1–November 1, 1934, cat. 301.

Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Paul Gauguin 1848–1903, May 1–21, 1936, cat. 28.

Baltimore, Museum of Art, Paul Gauguin 1848–1903. A Retrospective Exhibition of His Paintings, May 24–June 5, 1936, cat. 17.

New York, Wildenstein and Co., Inc., Paul Gauguin: A Retrospective Loan Exhibition For the Benefit of Les Amis de Paul Gauguin and The Penn Normal Industrial and Agricultural School, March 20–April 18, 1936, cat. 29.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Gauguin, Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture, February 12–March 29, 1959, cat. 57, traveled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 29–April 21, 1959.

Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, The Art of Paul Gauguin, May 1–July 31, 1988; cat. 205 (ill.), traveled to The Art Institute of Chicago, September 17–December 11, 1988; and Paris, Grand Palais, January 10–April 20, 1989.

Moscow, The Pushkin Museum, Gauguin in Russia, May–June 1989, cat. 37 (ill.); traveled to Leningrad, The Hermitage, July–October, 1989.

London, National Gallery, Degas as a Collector, May 22-August 26, 1996, cat. 57 (ill.).

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Private Collection of Edgar Degas, October 1, 1997-January 11, 1998, cat. 483 (ill.).

Essen, Museum Folkwang, Paul Gauguin: Das verlorene Paradies, June 17-October 18, 1998, cat. 34 (ill.), traveled to Nationalgalerie Berlin, October 31, 1998-January 10, 1999.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, September 22, 2001-January 13, 2002, cat. 142 (ill.), traveled to The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, February 9-June 6, 2002.

Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Gauguin: Tahiti, September 30, 2003-January 19, 2004, cat. 105 (ill.), traveled to Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, February 29, 2004-June 20, 2004.

Fort Worth, Tex., Kimbell Museum of Art, The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago, June 29–November 2, 2008, cat. 71 (ill.).

Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist, June 25-Sept. 10. 2017; Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Oct. 9, 2017-Jan. 1, 2018.

Publication History

The Art Institute of Chicago, A Guide to the Paintings in the Permanent Collection (Chicago, 1925), no. 2242.

The Art News 24, 10 (December 12), 1925, p. 8 (ill.).

“The Birch-Bartlett Loan Collection,” Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 19, 7 (October 1925), p. 82 (ill. on cover).

Forbes Watson, “A Note on the Birch-Bartlett Collection,” The Arts 9, 6 (June 1926), p. 305 (ill.).

The Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Paintings in the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial from the Birch-Bartlett Collection (Chicago, 1926), p. 6, (ill.) 7.

R. M. Fishkin, “A Late Gauguin,” Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 21, 6 (September 1927), pp. 74–75.

R. M. Fishkin, “Gauguin Given to Art Institute,” Art News 25, 40 (September 17, 1927), p. 7.

Morton Dauwen Zabel, “An American gallery of Modern Painting,” Art and Archaeology 26, 6 (December 1928), pp. 233, (ill.) 234.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Paintings in the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial from the Birch-Bartlett Collection (Chicago, 1929), pp. 12, 58, (ill.) 13.

“Chicago show to present French modern classics,” Art News 31, 34 (May 20, 1933), p. 4.

“The Rearrangement of the Painting Galleries,” Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago, 27, 7 (December 1933), p. 116 (ill.).

Daniel Catton Rich, “The Exhibirion of French Art ‘Art Institute of Chicago,’” Formes 33 (1933), p. 383.

R. H. Wilenski, French Painting ( Boston, 1936), p. 289.

E. M. Benson, “Exhibition reviews, “ American Magazine of Art 29 (May 1936), p. 235, (ill.) 324.

R. C. Goldwater, “Some Aspects of the Development of Seurat’s Style,” The Art Bulletin 23, 1 (March 1941), p. 129, fig. 22.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Paintings in the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial, (Chicago, 1946), pp. 14, (ill.) 15.

Egbert Jacobson, Basic Color, an Interpretation of the Ostwald Color System (Chicago, 1948), pp. 81–183, (ill.) 181.

Carl O. Schiewind, “Paul Gauguin,” Bulletin of The Art Institute of Chicago 43, 3 (September 15, 1949), p. 46 (ill.).

Charles Estienne, Gauguin (Geneva, 1953), p. 87 (ill.).

Visionaries and Dreamers exh. cat. (Washington D. C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1956), fig. 12.

Georges Wildenstein, “L’Idéologie et l’esthétique dans deux tableaux-clés de Gauguin,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 47, per. 6 (January–April 1956), fig. 10.

Robert Goldwater, Paul Gauguin (New York, 1957), pp. 39, 126, ill., 127.

“Gauguin,” The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly 53, 1 (February 1959), p. 3 (ill.).

Henri Perruchot, La vie de Gauguin (Paris, 1961), p. 281.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of The Picture Collection (Chicago, 1961), pp. 170–171, (ill.) 335.

Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin (Paris, 1964), no. 513 (ill.).

Georges Boudalille, Gauguin, trans. Alisa Jaffa (New York, 1964), p. 180 (ill.).

Raymond Charmet, Gauguin (Verviers, 1965), p. 63 (ill.).

Frederick A. Sweet, “A Great Chicago Collectors,” Apollo 84, 55 (September 1966), p. 197, fig. 15.

William M. Kane, “Gauguin’s ‘Le Cheval Blanc’: Sources and Syncretic Meanings,” Burlington Magazine 108, 760 (July 1966), p. 361.

Bengt Danielsson, “Gauguin’s Tahitian Titles,” Burlington Magazine 7, 760 (April 1967), p. 231.

Joseph Ishikawa, “Modern Malgré lui: The Phenomenon of Puvis de Chavannes,” Art Journal 27, 4 (Summer 1968), p. 386 (ill.).

John Maxon, The Art Institute of Chicago (London, 1970), pp. 97–98, (ill.) 97.

G. M. Sugana, L’opera completa di Gauguin (Milan, 1972), no. 336, pl. 38.

Herbert Lee van Dowski, Die Wahreit über Gauguin, mit Vielen, zum Teil farbigen Abbildungen und einem ‘Katalog der Gemälde’ (Darmstadt, 1973), no. 329a.

Lionello Venturi, Impressionists and Symbolists, trans by Francis Steegmuller (New York, 1950), pp. 171–172, fig. 174.

Georges Wildenstein, Gauguin (Paris, 1964), no. 513 (ill.).

René Huyghe, La reléve du reel impressionnisme symbolisme (Paris, 1974), no. 283 (ill.).

Alan C. Birnholz, “Double Images reconsidered: a fresh look at Gauguin’s Yellow Christ,” Art International 21, 5 (October–November 1977), p. 31, (ill) 30.

Marjorie Elliot Bevlin, Design through Discovery (New York, 1977).

Theodore Reff, “Degas: A Master Among Masters, “ The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 34, 4 (Spring 1977), p. 49 (ill.).

J. Patrice Marandel, The Art Institute of Chicago, Favorite Impressionist Paintings. The Art Institute of Chicago: 100 Masterpieces (Chicago, 1978), no. 78.

The Art Institute of Chicago, 100 Masterpieces (Chicago, 1978), no. 72.

Diane Kelder, The Great Book of French Impressionism (New York, 1980), p. 22 (ill.).

Houston Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin 7, 4 (Fall 1981).

Richard Brettell, “The Bartletts and the Grande Jatte: Collecting Modern Painting in the 1920s,” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 12, 2 (1986), fig. 4.

Mary Louise Krumrine, Paul Cézanne: The Bathers exh. cat. (Kunstmuseum Basel, 1989), p. 285.

Peggy Vance, Gauguin (London, 1991), p. 126-7, ill., 144.

The Age of Impressionism at the Art Institute of Chicago (New Haven and London, 2008), cat. 71, pp. 148–49 (ill.).

Gloria Groom, ed. Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist, exh. cat. (Art Institute of Chicago/ Yale University Press, 2017). p. 260-261, 286n5, 292, 331, cat. 203.

Claire Bernardi and Ophélie Ferlier-Bouat, Guaguin: L’alchimiste, exh. cat. (Musée d’Osay/ Réunion des muséea nationaux-Grand Palais/ Graphicom, 2017), p. 203, 304, cat. 206.

Ownership History

Bought from the artist’s studio exhibition by Edgar Degas (died 1917), Paris in December 1894, for 500 francs [Degas inventory no. 71, see London 1996 and New York 1997-98]; Degas Sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, March 26-27, 1918, lot 43, sold for 12,600 francs as Le Repos au bord de la mer (Tahiti) to Jos Hessel, Paris [according to New York 1997-98]. George Bernheim, Paris by 1924; shipped from Bernheim to the Art Institute in July 1924 [see Registrar receipt dated July 12, 1924, copy in curatorial file]; sold to Frederick Clay Bartlett, Chicago in 1925 [according to Brettell 1986]; given to the Art Institute, Chicago, 1926.

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