"I am trying to put into these desolate figures the savagery that I see in them and which is in me too... Dammit, I want to consult nature as well but I don't want to leave out what I see there and what comes into my mind."
PAUL GAUGUIN SYNOPSIS
Paul Gauguin is one of the most significant French artists to be initially schooled in, but who broke away from its fascination with the everyday world to pioneer a new style of painting broadly referred to as . As the Impressionist movement was culminating in the late 1880s, Gauguin experimented with new color theories and semi-decorative approaches to painting. He famously worked one summer in an intensely colorful style alongside in the south of France, before turning his back entirely on Western society. He had already abandoned a former life as a stockbroker by the time he began traveling regularly to the south Pacific in the early 1890s, where he developed a new style that married everyday observation with mystical symbolism, a style strongly influenced by the popular, so-called arts of Africa, Asia, and French Polynesia. Gauguin's rejection of his European family, society, and the Paris art world for a life apart, in the land of the "Other," has come to serve as a romantic example of the artist-as-wandering-mystic.
PAUL GAUGUIN KEY IDEAS
MOST IMPORTANT ART
Still-Life with Fruit and Lemons (ca. 1880)
Composed while Gauguin was still working full time as a stockbroker and painting was little more than a hobby to him, this still-life reveals the artist's natural technical skill with brush and canvas. The subject matter is also standard Impressionist fare, and is a clear indicator of Gauguin's early influencers, which included Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. Gauguin's rendering of the tablecloth in particular also shows the strong influence of Cézanne, whose own still-lifes used similar effects of outline and shading.
Oil on canvas - Museum Langmatt, Baden, Switzerland
PAUL GAUGUIN BIOGRAPHY
Paul Gauguin was born to Clovis Gauguin, a journalist, and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the socialist leader and early feminist activist Flora Tristan. At the age of three, Gauguin and his family fled Paris for Lima, Peru, a move motivated by France's tenuous political climate that prohibited freedom of the press. On the trans-Atlantic journey, Clovis fell ill and died. For the next four years, Gauguin, his sister, and mother lived with extended relatives in Lima.
In 1855, as France entered upon a more politically stable era, the surviving family returned to settle in the north-central French city of Orleans, where they lived with Gauguin's grandfather. There, Gauguin began his formal education and eventually joined the merchant marine (compulsory service) at age seventeen. Three years later Gauguin joined the French Navy. Returning to Paris in 1872, Gauguin took up work as a stockbroker.
Following his mother's death in 1867, Gauguin went to live with his appointed guardian, Gustave Arosa, a wealthy art patron and collector. Under Arosa's care, Gauguin was introduced to the work of thepainter, , as well as the work of painter , , and the pre-Impressionist, Barbizon school of French landscape painting. This education of the artist's eye in the work of his close predecessors was to have a lasting effect on Gauguin's later work.
Gauguin married Mette-Sophie Gad in 1873; subsequently, Gauguin, his Danish wife, and their five children moved from Paris to Copenhagen. Gauguin also began to collect art, procuring a modest array of Impressionist paintings by, , and . By 1880 Gauguin was himself painting in his spare time and employing an Impressionist style, as in his Still-Life with Fruit and Lemons (1880). Gauguin also took to frequently visiting galleries, and eventually he rented his own artist's studio. In addition, Gauguin painted beside newly befriended artists and , and he himself participated in the official Impressionist exhibitions in Paris of 1881 and 1882.
Gauguin lost his job as a stockbroker in the financial crash of 1882; by 1885 he was seeking a new means of making a living. Plagued by bouts of depression, Gauguin finally decided to pursue his painting as an alternate career path. He returned to Paris determined to make a professional go of it, indeed, despite the fact that up to that time he entirely lacked formal artistic training. Meanwhile, Mette-Sophie and their children settled with extended family in Denmark. A several-month's stay in Brittany, at Pont-Aven, in mid 1886, proved a decisive turning point for Gauguin, who developed there astyle of painting in which flat, luminescent colors, like those of stained-glass windows, came to signify the local Breton peoples' natural and spiritual experience. During this trip and a subsequent sojourn in Brittany in 1889, Gauguin sought to achieve a new kind of "synthesis," or fusion of color, composition, and subject matter, not only from painting before a live model or landscape, such as in the manner of the Impressionists, but by bringing together numerous studies in a way that finally evoked the inner life of his subject over merely suggesting its outward appearance. In his (1886), for instance, naturalistic tones of landscape co-exist with larger expanses of pattern and color that begin to suggest a symbolic importance to the subject lying beyond what's immediately visible. Two years later, Gauguin sailed to Panama and, subsequently, Martinique, often living in a hut with friend and fellow artist . These travels to so-called primitive cultures; his observation of the natives in their own natural environment; and his own employment of a rich, vibrant palette would soon come to serve Gauguin as a foundation for an original artistic style.
By the late 1880s, Gauguin's work caught the attention of, another young and gifted painter who, like Gauguin, frequently suffered from bouts of depression. Similarly to Gauguin's, van Gogh's painting - while distinctly Impressionistic - showed the potential to blossom into something entirely new. The two artists began a regular correspondence, during which they exchanged paintings, including self-portraits, among them Gauguin's Self-Portrait 'Les Miserables' (1888). In 1888, at van Gogh's invitation, the two men lived and worked together for nine weeks in van Gogh's rented house at Arles in the south of France. Van Gogh's brother and benefactor, , an art dealer by profession, served as Gauguin's primary business manager and artistic confident at the time.
During these nine weeks, both artists turned out an impressive number of canvases, among Gauguin's his now-famous Night Cafe at Arles (Mme Ginoux) and a signature early work, Vision After the Sermon (Jacob's Fight with the Angel) (both 1888). Neither man had a particularly promising reputation in the art world at this moment; rather, both were regarded as highly experimental painters searching for a new style that might depart from the mature Impressionism of Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro. The intensity of the artistic exchange would come to a dramatic conclusion as, by the end of nine weeks, van Gogh's depressive and occasionally violent emotional episodes led to the dissolution of their artistic partnership, although the two would forever admire each other's work.
Gauguin returned to Paris, but only briefly. By now completely uninterested with Impressionism and what had, by that time come to be referred to as, Gauguin focused on further developing his Symbolist flat application of paint and bold palette as in his painting (1889), a work largely influenced by Japanese prints, African folk art, and popular imagery imprinted on Gauguin's memory from his travels to South America and the French East Indies (today's Caribbean).
In 1891, after spending years away from his wife and children, Gauguin effectively abandoned his family by moving alone, like a perpetual, solitary wanderer, to French Polynesia, where he would remain for the rest of his days. This move was the culmination of Gauguin's increasing desire to escape what he regarded as an artificial European culture for a life in a more "natural" condition.
In his final decade, Gauguin lived in Tahiti, and subsequently Punaauia, finally making his way to the Marquesas Islands. During this time he painted more traditional portraits, such as Tahitian Women on the Beach (1891), The Moon and the Earth (Hina tefatou) (1893), and(1899). He also continued to experiment with quasi-religious and Symbolist subject matter, as in his Manao Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch) (1892), and his Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897). These works were painted during a period in which Gauguin was essentially bidding his career adieu, as if he were an athlete "at the top of his game," so to speak, but wanting to aspire towards a more spiritual condition. Seeking an unworldly sense of repose and detachment, he is said to have been obsessed with his own mortality. He looked back on his life and even borrowed figures from his own earlier paintings, perhaps as though to symbolically lend them an extended lifespan. Notably, by 1899 Gauguin was referring to himself satirically, writing to a Paris colleague that he painted only "on Sundays and holidays," ironically like the amateur he once embodied prior to pursuing art seriously. Not long after that self-deprecating quip, he unsuccessfully attempted suicide by self-poisoning.
In early May, 1903, morally skittish, and weakened by drug-addiction and regular bouts with illness, Gauguin succumbed to the degenerative effects of syphilis and died at the age of 54, in the Marquesas islands, where he was subsequently buried.
PAUL GAUGUIN LEGACY
Gauguin's naturalistic forms and "primitive" subject matter would embolden an entire, younger generation of painters to move decisively away from late Impressionism and pursue more abstract, or poetically inclined subjects, some inspired by French Symbolist poetry, others derived from myth, ancient history, and non-Western cultural traditions for motifs with which they might refer to the more spiritual and supernatural aspects of human experience. Gauguin ultimately proved extremely influential to 20th-century modern art, in particular that ofand and their development of from about 1911 to 1915. Likewise, Gauguin's endorsement of bold color palettes would have a direct effect on the , most notably and , both of whom would frequently employ intensely resonant, emotionally expressive, and otherwise "un-realistic" color.
Gauguin, the man, became a legend almost independently of his art and came to inspire a number of literary works based on his "exotic" life story - a prime example being W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence (1919).
PAUL GAUGUIN QUOTES
"Civilization is what makes you sick."
"In art, all who have done something other than their predecessors have merited the epithet of revolutionary; and it is they alone who are masters."
"There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite."
"Don't paint too much direct from nature. Art is an abstraction. Study nature then brood on it and treasure the creation which will result, which is the only way to ascend towards God - to create like our divine master."
"He's physically stronger than we are, so his passions must also be much stronger than ours. Then he's the father of children, then he has his wife and his children in Denmark, and at the same time he wants to go right to the other end of the globe to Martinique. It's horrifying, all the vice versa of incompatible desires and needs which that must cause him."
-Vincent van Gogh writing to Theo van Gogh in 1889
Paul Gauguin Influences
Interactive chart with Paul Gauguin's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
Paul Gauguin BOOKS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
|Paul Gauguin: The Breakthrough Into Modernity||Gauguin: The Quest for Paradise|
|The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles|
Gauguin: Maker of Myth
By Laura Cumming
By Michael Glover
Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: De Young's
post-Impressionist follow-up defies packaging, giving Van
Gogh a minor role
By Kenneth Baker
Art Review; Gauguin's Paradise: Only Part Tahitian
And All a Fantasy
By Holland Cotter
The Colors of Paradise As Imagined by
By Alan Riding
A New York Bouquet of Gauguin
By Holland Cotter
Paul Gauguin: A Life
By Stephen Goode
A Show Equal to an Artist Larger than Life
By John Russell