What does Gauguin’s art from Oceania reveal, and how should it be interpreted?

Join us to celebrate the launch of Nicholas Thomas’s latest book, Gauguin and Polynesia. Together with Maia Nuku, Curator for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum, and chaired by Luke Syson, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the evening will begin with short talks on Oceanic art histories and be followed by a glass of wine and conversation.

Gauguin is famous for resplendent, mythic imagery from Oceania, but seen increasingly as an artist guilty of sexual exploitation and colonial appropriation. Taking Nicholas Thomas’s new book as a departure point, this discussion considers colonial Polynesia, Gauguin and cross-cultural exchange, addressing the wider range of the artist’s eclectic oeuvre, across painting, sculpture and work on paper. Reconsidering signs of place and identity in both famous and less well-known works, this work asks how the work and the legacy can be seen today.

Copies of the book will be available to purchase for a launch-event-only price of £35.


Nicholas Thomas first visited Polynesia in 1984 to undertake research in the Marquesas Islands. He has since travelled extensively across the Pacific, and written on Indigenous histories, empire and art; his books include Islanders: the Pacific in the age of empire (2012), which was awarded the Wolfson History Prize. Oceania, which Thomas co-curated with Peter Brunt for the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris in 2018–19, was acclaimed as a landmark exhibition. Since 2006, he has been Professor of Historical Anthropology, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Maia Nuku, born in London of English and Māori (Ngai Tai) descent, is Curator for the Arts of Oceania at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Following doctoral research on eighteenth century collections of Polynesian art and two post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Cambridge, she has evolved a curatorial approach that centers indigenous Pacific perspectives, grounding the presentation of visual arts from Oceania in the unique conceptual and cosmological connections that make art from the region so compelling. Her exhibition The Shape of Time: Art and Ancestors of Oceania was shown at the Museum of Art in Pudong, Shanghai (June – August 2023) and the National Museum of Qatar (October 2023 – January 2024).