Satirical Gauguin menus of Tahiti up for auction

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Eleven menus painted by Paul Gauguin for guests at a dinner party in his Tahitian home are to be sold at auction by Sotheby's on Thursday. The watercolour menus depict unique insights into his life and contain scathing criticism of the island's officialdom.

Since Gauguin's death in 1903, there has been an insatiable demand for details of his personal life, notably his appetite for young Polynesian girls. But the lots, being sold separately at auction in New York and which are expected to fetch as much as £600,000, show a little-known side of the artist.

The identity of Gauguin's dinner guests that night is not known, but to judge from the carefully prepared menus and selection of food they were of some importance. The most biting attack on Tahiti's law enforcement system is the menu depicting "le commissaire de police", in which the officer in question addresses a turkey with the warning: "Have a good time but no stupidity."

Not all of the watercolours are satirical. Two are evocations of life in Brittany, while another advises the dinner guest not to become drunk.

Many of the themes and technical concerns that preoccupied Gauguin can be seen in the menus. A spokesman for Sotheby's said: "As a group of watercolours the group is unique in its spontaneity and in the directness with which it reveals his thought processes."

Gauguin turned increasingly to journalism and work on prints and manuscript immediately after painting his masterpiece Rupe Rupe in 1899. Although he had abandoned Europe in his search for what he termed "the primitive", he could not completely avoid the company of other expatriates and he was actively involved in the politics of Tahiti.