Gauguin’s female models, whether Breton peasants or Tahitian natives, are generally depicted as instinctive and superstitious creatures. This may have reflected Gauguin’s own attitude to women; however in the case of his Breton models he claimed to be a primitivist probing beneath the veneer of civilisation. Gauguin implied the rustic backwardness of his Breton peasants by dressing them in traditional costume. However, the nakedness of his Tahitian models sufficiently indicates their supposedly primitive natures.
Gauguin has been criticised for racial stereotyping. Indeed most of his models lack subjective characteristics and he rarely attempts to explore their individual personalities, appearing entirely insensitive in this regard. It might even be argued that Gauguin was completely self-obsessed. His relationship with his own family and his"friendships" with Vincent Van Gogh and Emile Schuffenecker seem to support this view.
“Woman with a Flower” is a rare sensitive portrait of a fully-clothed and dignified Tahitian woman holding a flower, the symbol of life and fertility. Gauguin does not contrast his model with a second supernatural motif or incorporate her within a harsh pattern of abstract lines. Instead he captures her melancholy nature through simple direct portraiture.
Although Gauguin demonstrates intuitive sensitivity in “Woman with a Flower”, many critics dismiss the painting as yet further evidence of his own self-obsessive nature. This is because the background has been recycled from Gauguin's own 1889 self-portrait in which he portrayed himself as a melancholy genius. It is therefore possible that the picture reflects his own mood rather than any genuine emotion on the part of his model.
Image Source: The Yorck Project