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Oviri (Gauguin)

Oviri is an 1894 ceramic sculpture by French artist Paul Gauguin, the original cast is in the Musée d'Orsay. Gauguin shows her with long pale hair and large wild eyes. In Tahitian mythology Oviri was the goddess of mourning. Gauguin shows her either smothering or embracing a wolf with her feet, as she tightly clutches another wolf cub in her arms. Art historians have presented multiple interpretations of the work; usually that he intended it as an epithet to reinforce his self-image as a "civilised savage". Tahitian goddesses of her era had passed from folk memory by 1894, yet Gauguin romanticises the island's past as he reaches towards more ancient sources, including an Assyrian relief of a ' master of animals' type and Majapahit mummies. Other possible influences include preserved skulls from the Marquesas Islands, figures found at Borobudur, and a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple in central Java.

Gauguin made three casts in 1894, each in partially glazed stoneware. Several other copies exist in plaster or bronze. His sale of the casts were not successful, and at a low financial and personal ebb he asked that for one of the reproductions to act as a marker for his grave. A cast was not placed there until 1973. There are only three other surviving comments of his on the figure: on an 1895 presentation mount of two impressions of a woodcut of the Oviri figure he made to Stéphane Mallarmé where he called the figure a strange and cruel enigma; in an 1897 letter to Ambroise Vollard where he referred to it as La Tueuse ("The Murderess"); and in a c. 1899 drawing where he appends an inscription referencing Honoré de Balzac's novel Séraphîta. Oviri was exhibited at the 1906 Salon d'Automne (no. 57) where it influenced Pablo Picasso, who based one of the figures in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon on it.