George Biddle, Temehau a Teai
Having served in World War I, Biddle went to Tahiti in 1920 to heal from the trauma of his experiences. He embraced the beauty of the island and understood it as a society caught in the crosswinds of European colonialism; he did his best to learn the language and build relationships, noting that “civilization, language, and moral outlook are based on different life concepts from ours.”
Biddle hired a French-speaking woman, Temehau a Teai, depicted in this portrait, as his housekeeper. The relationship developed into a four-month love affair. Temehau was of Tahitian, Tuamotuan, and French descent and her beautiful visage appears in woodcuts, etchings, and photographs that Biddle made in Tahiti. He also made a sculpted likeness in stone that he carried with him through life. He mounted the stone portrait of the young woman’s face over the doorway in his dining room in his home on Croton-on-Hudson, and created a cement version to mount on his home’s exterior (a fragment of which is on view in this gallery). He also depicted the sculpture in his monumental 1966 group portrait, Evocation of the Past.