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Paul Gauguin

(1848 - 1903)

French post-Impressionist, Paul Gauguin, developed artistic techniques that helped form the basis of modern art.

On June 7, 1848, Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris into a liberal middle-class family. His father was a radical republican journalist, and because of his questionable political activities, the family was forced into exile when Gauguin was just one year of age. The entire family was headed to Peru, but his father died en route.

The rest of the family reached their destination and settled in Lima for four years, a period that had a great impact on Paul.

Gauguin did not begin as an artist. At the age of 17, he worked for six years as a sailor for the French merchant fleet. He then turned to banking and gained success as a stockbroker at the Paris stock exchange.

In 1871 Paul Gauguin took up the hobby of painting after seeing an Impressionist exhibition. But he did not make this hobby a career as he was still dedicated to his bourgeois life and steady banker job. In 1873, his conventional life continued as he married Mette Gad, and eventually had five children.

In 1874, after meeting the artist Camille Pissarro and viewing the first Impressionist exhibition, he became a collector and amateur painter. He exhibited with the Impressionists on various occasions throughout 1876 to 1886. His application of broken rhythmical brushwork, and his interest in texture and color aligned him with the techniques of the Impressionists.

It was in 1883 that Gauguin decided to abandon his secure job to devote himself to painting. As a result, his family suffered a loss of funds and his wife and children were forced to return to Mette’s family in Denmark.

Gauguin settled in Brittany, France, where he became associated with an experimental group of painters, the school of Pont-Aven.

He left France for a short time in 1887, when he set sail to Panama with painter, Charles Laval. Throughout the course of his travels, he gained experience in his development as an artist.

In February 1888 he returned to Brittany with a newfound feeling of confidence in his skill.

He developed his new non-naturalistic style called Symbolism, and found inspiration in indigenous art, medieval stained glass, and Japanese prints. His inspirations are reflected in such works as Yellow Christ (1889).

In 1891, Gauguin suffered a deep depression. In severe debt, he set sail to Tahiti. He wanted to escape European civilization. His stay in Tahiti resulted in much artistic activity and an application of different style and techniques, although he did retain a variety of his old forms such as expressive color and flat forms. His new inspiration of Tropical culture, however, caused a binary in his work as he represented both power and simplification.

Celebrated paintings of this period include Tahitian Women on the Beach (1891) and Spirit of the Deadwatching (1892), amongst others.

Throughout the late 1890’s and early into the next century, Gauguin was plagued by illness. His health mostly deteriorated because of ongoing problems with alcohol, syphilis, depression, and financial worries.

Despite these obstacles and an attempted suicide in 1898, Gauguin still managed to paint one of his most renowned works, D’ou venons nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous? (1897)

In 1900, after signing a contract with Vollard, a Parisian art dealer, Gauguin’s financial position somewhat improved. His health, on the other hand, was beyond reparation.

In 1903, Gauguin was sentenced to three-months in prison and fined 1,000 francs because of problems with the church and the colonial administration. But, before he could begin his sentence, he died on the May 8, 1903 at his home in Atuana.

Movements associated with Paul Gauguin:
19th century, Impressionism, Post impressionism, Symbolism


Art prints by Paul Gauguin
The Yellow Christ We Hail Thee Mary


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