My love, Annah the Javanese


a/n: This was a literary response to Paul Gauguin’s paintings of Annah, one of his many mistresses in French Polynesia. He was a French post-Impressionist artist from the 19th century. This FICTIONAL piece of work imagines what their relationship was like. I would like to reiterate that it is fictional, and even though it has basis in real and true elements of their relationship based on class readings and other research, it is ultimately my own opinion and should not be taken as truth. Enjoy. 🙂

Annah the Javanese, as painted by Paul Gauguin, 1893

My love, Annah the Javanese

She knows.

She doesn’t let him know so much in words as with her eyes. Such black, impenetrable eyes – the lack of emotion tells as much as their presence. He could wear that all too saccharine smile for all the world to see, but where his gaze searches hers for reassurance, he meets only a stone wall; this makes his fingers shake, longing to clench but unable to. Intimacy should break all walls between them, but it seems to him the more she draws him in, the more she leans back herself – and always with a cunning smirk.

That’s why he orders her to model for him. She rolls her eyes no, I don’t want to and he smiles don’t be shy, you’re beautiful and she clenches her jaw oh, just give me a break and his head tilts to the side I just want to paint you and she stomps her foot well, I’m tired of you asking and back and forth they argue, a lion and a lonely cornered deer too close together in a tiny, stuffy room, and he’s growing exhausted at having to askconvince(plead)threatenforce her to just goddamn do it, why does it have to be so hard. For a second, an emotion flashes through those bottomless eyes, and then she’s still, and then she’s walking across the room, and then she’s reclining regally against the throne, utterly naked, gloriously indifferent.

If he feels bad for becoming the lion, he doesn’t let it on. He sits crouched up against the canvas, huddled over his paintbrush, constantly soaking in her image to replicate, and vandalize, and she’ll never have felt so violated. He isn’t even touching her, but every bone in her body is rigid, tense – he is a pillow smothering an innocent.

He needs her like this: angry, frustrated, debased… naked. For some unimaginable reason, they struggle to be intimate in all ways but one, and it is one he despises like hot rain on a sunny day; God, does that make his skin crawl! He tries so hard to close the curtains, but to her, and only her, they’re transparent. There’s no need for idle guessing on her end to see what’s behind, what lurks within him. He feels exposed, naked, and dragged through the dirt, and spat on when she looks at him. Somewhere in the middle, she just gave up on him. Click. Like that.

His finger curves over her eye in the painting. He raises his gaze to her stubborn face.

Such lovely eyes. Such scary eyes.

My love, Annah the Javanese

His love, never his lover.

Money problems, hospitalization, separation, and now this–total isolation. He throws the last untouched vase against the wall; closes his eyes; listens to its wail in disjointed shatters. He knows he had been suffering, and taking it out on her… It’d always been oh, it’ll be okay if I do it just one more time; evidently, it was one time too many. She had stayed in Paris and he had gone to Brittany. He’d missed her, and now she was missing. She had flung apart his apartment, left in the cold dead of night, and now he’s facing the exact eerie reflection of his quivering heart.

Thank the heavens she hadn’t taken the painting! She couldn’t have; it is now on show to the world. The last remnant of her, a moment of her life he had captured and imprisoned within a couple square inches of stiff, rough canvas. To last young and eternal while she faded into memory and age. He had simultaneously reduced and magnified her. This moment of her life that she would never be able to take back for herself was all he had left of her, and he had no energy left to try harder than that.

All he had left of her, stuck in a painting with a monkey. He wonders who won.

My love, Annah the Javanese

I’m sorry. I love you.

His love, Pau’ura.

His lips struggle to say the right word.

Pau’ura is pretty. A girl with a pretty name is a pretty girl.

She is demure. She is honest, and kind. She is a faithful wife (as long as he doesn’t have to put a ring on her finger) and has such lovely pink cheeks when pregnant. Her belly is bright, almost painfully round, and she shines like a proud, dutiful mother. He can’t stop that ol’ saccharine smile from bursting out on to his face every time she smiles that big toothy grin up at him, eyes double-checking for his approval.

She is not impudent or frustrating or rash. (Therefore, she could never be his muse.) She is not like–

His head bows and he closes his eyes.

It is the moments when she isn’t looking at him that he can stare and pretend that she is someone else. Eyes vacant, lips moving without purpose, he drifts in and out of a memory that is now nothing more than dark ashes.


He jerks away from the suffocating thoughts. She–no, they–are his pillow. Angry, he tries to cover it up, rubbing his wife’s hand reassuring (though relief floods through him seeing her bare fingers).


He would be ashamed if anyone was smart enough to check between the lines.

Who is his love? Two years and one pregnant girl later, he still can’t open his mouth to say her name.

“Whose name, Paul?”

His lips struggle to say the right word.

I’m sorry I love you.





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Juliet Heslewood art historian
Juliet Heslewood art historian

This is a totally subjective view of Annah who was not Gauguin’s love at all, but a poor creature thrown amongst the avant grade artists of the time, rather like Paddington Bear. She was an ‘arriviste’ thinking he would bring her good fortune and soon found this not to be so. Gauguin’s relationships with women have been over-emphasised, incorrectly, against the huge achievement of his art. Annah hung on to him and was disappointed he did not care for her. Once he became ill, stranded in Brittany, she was bored stiff and soon went back to his studio and stole… Read more »

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