Paul Gauguin

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (French pronunciation: øˈʒɛn ãˈʁi ˌpol ɡoˈɡɛ̃; June 1848– May 1903) was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist. He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer. His bold experimentation with coloring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential proponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.


Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France to journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the half-Peruvian proto-socialist leader Flora Tristan, a feminist precursor. In 184 the family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period. Clovis died on the voyage, leaving eighteen-month old Paul, his mother and sister to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima with Paul's uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Gauguin in his art. It was in Lima that Gauguin encountered his first art. Alina admired Pre-Columbian pottery - Inca pots that some colonists dismissed as barbaric, his mother collected. And one of Gauguin's few early memories of his mother was of her wearing the traditional costume of Lima, one eye peeping from beneath the mysterious one-eyed veil, her manteau, that all women in Lima went out in. 'Gauguin was always drawn to women with a traditional look. This must have been the first of the colourful female costumes that were to haunt his imagination.'


At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France. They moved to Orléans to live with his grandfather. The Gauguins came originally from around the town and were market gardeners and greengrocers - Gauguin actually means 'walnut-grower'. His father had split with family tradition to become a journalist in Paris. He soon learned French, though his first and preferred language remained Peruvian Spanish, and he excelled in his studies. After attending a couple of local schools he was sent to a Catholic boarding school in La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, which he hated. He spent three years at the school. At seventeen, Gauguin signed on as a pilot's assistant in the merchant marine to fulfill his required military service. Three years later, he joined the French navy where he stayed for two years. He was somewhere in the Caribbean when he found out that his mother had died. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. His mother's very rich boyfriend, Gustave Arosa, got him a job at the Bourse; Gauguin was twenty-three. He became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for eleven years.


In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad (1850–1920). Over the next ten years, they had five children, Emile (1874–1955), Aline (1877–1897), Clovis (1879–1900), Jean Rene (1881–1961), and Paul Rollon (1883–1961).


Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he pursued a business career as a tarpaulin salesman. It was not a success, he could not speak Danish, and the Danish did not want French tarpaulins. Mette became the chief breadwinner, giving French lessons to trainee diplomats. His middle-class family and marriage fell apart after 1years after Gauguin was driven to paint full-time. He returned to Paris in 1885, after his wife and her family asked him to leave after he renounced the values they shared. Paul Gauguin's last physical contact with his family was in 1891. Gauguin outlived two of his children; his favorite daughter Aline died of pneumonia and son Clovis died of blood infection following a hip operation.


Emile Gauguin worked as a construction engineer in the U.S and is buried in Lemon bay Historical Cemetery, in Florida. Jean René Gauguin became a well-known sculptor and a staunch Socialist. He died on 2April 196in Copenhagen. Paola (Paul Rollon) became an artist and art critic and wrote a memoir, My Father, Paul Gauguin (1937).


Like his friend Vincent Van Gogh, with whom in 188he spent nine weeks painting in Arles, Paul Gauguin experienced many bouts of depression and at one time attempted suicide. He traveled to Martinique in search of an idyllic landscape and worked as a laborer on the Panama Canal construction; where he was dismissed from his job after only two weeks.


In 1891, Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia to escape European civilization and 'everything that is artificial and conventional'. He wrote a book titled 'Noa Noa' describing his experiences in Tahiti. There are some allegations that the contents of the book were fantasized and plagiarized by modern critics.


Gauguin left France again on July 1895, never to return. His time there, particularly in Tahiti and Hiva Oa Island, was the subject of much interest both then and in modern times due to his alleged sexual exploits. He was known to have had trysts with several prepubescent native girls, some of whom appear as subjects of his paintings.


Gauguin also had several children by his mistresses: Germaine (b.1891) with Juliette Huais (1866–1955), Emile Marae a Tai (b. 1899), with Pau'ura (1899–?), and a daughter (b. 1902) with Mari-Rose.


There is some speculation that the Belgian artist Germaine Chardon was Gauguin's daughter. Emile Marae a Tai, illiterate and raised in Tahiti, was brought to Chicago by French journalist Josette Giraud in 1963 and became a artist of note.


In French Polynesia, towards the end of his life, sick and suffering from an unhealed injury, he also got in legal trouble for taking the natives' side against French colonialists. On 2March 1903, he was charged with libel against the governor, M Guicheray and given days to prepare his defense. He was fined 500 francs and sentenced to months in prison. On April, he appealed for a new trial in Papeete. At the second trial, Gauguin was fined 500 francs and sentenced to one month in prison. At that time he was being supported by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Suffering from syphilis, he died at 1AM on May 190of an overdose of morphine and possibly heart attack before he could start the prison sentence. His body had been weakened by alcohol and a dissipated life. He was 54 years old.


Gauguin was buried in Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), Atuona, Hiva 'Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia at PM next day.


In 1873, around the same time as he became a stockbroker, he started becoming an artist too. Gauguin began painting in his free time. His Parisian life centred on the 9th arrondissement. Gauguin lived at 2rue la Bruyére. All around were the cafés made famous by the Impressionists. Gauguin also visited galleries frequently and purchased work by emerging artists. He formed a friendship with Pissarro and visited him on Sundays, to paint in his garden, and Pissarro introduced him to various other artists. Gauguin, 'moved downmarket and across the river to the poorer, newer, urban sprawls' of Vaugirard. Here, on the third floor at rue Carcel, he had the first home in which he had a studio. He showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 188and 188- (earlier a sculpture, of his son Emile, had been the only sculpture in the 4th Impressionist Exhibition of 1879.) Over two summer holidays, he painted with Pissarro and occasionally Paul Cézanne.


In 1887, after visiting Panama, he spent several months near Saint Pierre in Martinique, in the company of his friend the artist Charles Laval. At first, the 'negro hut' in which they lived suited him, and he enjoyed watching people in their daily activities. However, the weather in the summer was hot and the hut leaked in the rain. He also suffered dysentery and marsh fever. While in Martinique, he produced between ten and twenty works (twelve being the most common estimate) and traveled widely and apparently came into contact with a small community of Indian immigrants, a contact that would later influence his art through the incorporation of Indian symbols. Gauguin, along with Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Émile Schuffenecker and many others frequently visited the artist colony of Pont-Aven in Brittany. By the bold use of pure color and Symbolist choice of subject matter the group is now considered a Pont-Aven School. Disappointed with Impressionism, he felt that traditional European painting had become too imitative and lacked symbolic depth. By contrast, the art of Africa and Asia seemed to him full of mystic symbolism and vigour. There was a vogue in Europe at the time for the art of other cultures, especially that of Japan (Japonism). He was invited to participate in the exhibition organized by Les XX.


Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin's work evolved towards Cloisonnism, a style given its name by the critic Édouard Dujardin in response to Émile Bernard's method of painting with flat areas of color and bold outlines, which reminded Dujardin of the Medieval cloisonné enamelling technique. Gauguin was very appreciative of Bernard's art and of his daring with the employment of a style which suited Gauguin in his quest to express the essence of the objects in his art.


In The Yellow Christ (1889), often cited as a quintessential Cloisonnist work, the image was reduced to areas of pure color separated by heavy black outlines. In such works Gauguin paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of color, thereby dispensing with the two most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting. His painting later evolved towards Synthetism in which neither form nor color predominate but each has an equal role.Paul Gauguin, Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi), 1892, The Museum of Modern Art


Living in Mataiea Village in Tahiti, he painted 'Fatata te Miti' ('By the Sea'), 'Ia Orana Maria' (Ave Maria) and other depictions of Tahitian life. He moved to Punaauia in 1897, where he created the masterpiece painting 'Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?' and then lived the rest of his life in the Marquesas Islands, returning to France only once, when he painted at Pont-Aven.


His works of that period are full of quasi-religious symbolism and an exoticized view of the inhabitants of Polynesia. In Polynesia, he sided with the native peoples, clashing often with the colonial authorities and with the Catholic Church. During this period he also wrote the book Avant et après (before and after), a fragmented collection of observations about life in Polynesia, memories from his life and comments on literature and paintings.


Primitivism was an art movement of late 19th century painting and sculpture; characterized by exaggerated body proportions, animal totems, geometric designs and stark contrasts. The first artist to systematically use these effects and achieve broad public success was Paul Gauguin. The European cultural elite discovering the art of Africa, Micronesia, and Native Americans for the first time were fascinated, intrigued and educated by the newness, wildness and the stark power embodied in the art of those faraway places. Like Pablo Picasso in the early days of the 20th century, Gauguin was inspired and motivated by the raw power and simplicity of the so-called Primitive art of those foreign cultures.


Gauguin is also considered a Post-Impressionist painter. His bold, colorful and design oriented paintings significantly influenced Modern art. Artists and movements in the early 20th century inspired by him include Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain, Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, among others. Later he influenced Arthur Frank Mathews and the American Arts and Crafts Movement.


John Rewald, an art historian focused on the birth of Modern art, wrote a series of books about the Post-Impressionist period, including Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin (1956) and an essay, Paul Gauguin: Letters to Ambroise Vollard and André Fontainas (included in Rewald's Studies in Post-Impressionism, 1986), discusses Gauguin's years in Tahiti, and the struggles of his survival as seen through correspondence with the art dealer Vollard and others.


Gauguin's relationship with Van Gogh was rocky. Gauguin had shown an early interest in impressionism, and the two shared bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies. In 1888, Gauguin and Van Gogh spent nine weeks together, painting in the latter's Yellow House in Arles. During this time, Gauguin became increasingly disillusioned with impressionism, and the two quarreled. On the evening of December 23, 1888, frustrated and ill, Van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor blade. In a panic, Van Gogh fled to a local brothel. While there, he cut off the lower part of his left ear lobe. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to 'keep this object carefully.' Gauguin left Arles, and a few days later Van Gogh was hospitalized. They never saw each other again, but they continued to correspond and in 1890 Gauguin proposed they form an artist studio in Antwerp. In an 1889 sculptural self-portrait Jug in the form of a Head, Self-portrait Gauguin portrays the traumatic relationship with Van Gogh.



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