A collection of portraits of early twentieth-century Tahitian beauties. French born Gauthier (1875-1971) traveled to Tahiti in 1904 and opened a portrait studio, which allowed him to meet the local beauties, who posed for him both clothed and, very often, nude. Public nudity was full accepted in Tahitian society. His body of work was widely diffused in the form of postcards, establishing his fame and today highly collectible.
Tahiti became a French protectorate in 1842 and the French government had a small garrison there. The first photographers in Tahiti were, therefore, French naval personnel. A number of French officers took photographs which were sent to Paris for reproduction in magazines such as Tout du Monde andL'Illustration to pander to the thirst for views of these exotic islands.
In 1901, however, the Oceanic Steamship Company of San Francisco launched a regular (once every 36 days) service to Papeete. Leaving San Francisco at 11.00 am on the steamship Mariposa under the command of Captain Rennie, the voyage would now take only 12 or 13 days, remaining at Papeete for four days before returning to San Francisco. Although the ship could accomodate 75 passengers it rarely took more than 25 making it a relaxing voyage, according to travellers at the time.
Gauthier had little difficulty encouraging the local girls to pose for him for his tasteful art nudes for, despite the activities of Catholic missionaries who had made the girls cover up, memories of a culture that did not see nudity as shameful remained strong enough. Gauthier himself recording that, on one of his expeditions to some of the wilder and more distant country, he ran into a completely naked vahine, much to his delight.
Gauthier's girls show less of the impact of Chinese and Indian blood coming to the island and so their apperance more closely mirrors the look of the girls who enticed the crews of Bougainville and Bligh over a hundered years earlier.