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About Paul Gauguin


Gauguin, (Eugène Henri) Paul (1848-1903), French postimpressionist painter, whose subject matter, lush color, and flat two-dimensional forms helped form the basis of modern art, fauvism in particular. Born in Paris, the son of an émigré Republican journaliste, Gauguin spent his earliest years 1849-1855 in Lima (Peru); then he went back to Orléans and Paris. He went to sea from 1865 to 1871, then he worked in banking from 1871 to 1883 in Paris. In 1873 he married the Danish woman Mette Gad with whom he had five children. Gauguin became a successful stockbroker. Influenced by French impressionism, he also became a collector and amateur painter. In 1874 he met Pissarro and other Impressionists, began to study at the Académi Colarossi and exhibited at the Salon for the first time in 1876. In 1879 he painted with Pissarro in Pontoise and exhibited with the Impressionists at their exhibitions IV to VIII from1879 to 1886. In 1881 he painted with Pissarro and Cézanne. In 1882 he moved to Rouen, then to Copenhagen, and got into financial distress. He eventually devoted himself entirely to painting, abandoning his family. He returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family behind in Denmark. In 1886 he painted for the first time at Pont-Aven where he met the French painter Émile Bernard. In Paris he became acquainted with the brothers van Gogh and traveled with the painter Laval to Panama and Martinique in 1887. Under the influence of French painter Bernard, Gauguin turned away from impressionism and adopted a less naturalistic style, which he called synthetism, in his Brittany paintings. Finding inspiration in the art of indigenous peoples, in medieval stained glass, and in Japanese prints, he used large flat areas of nonnaturalistic color. He exhibited at Theo van Gogh's gallery. His stay with Vincent van Gogh at Arles ended the friendship. In 1889 he contributed to the Les XX exhibition at Brussels and at the Café Volpini during the Paris World Exhibition. He painted at Pont-Aven and Le Pouldu, influenced by Sérusier, Denis and Bonnard.

In 1891, after auctioning his works and quarreling with Barnard, Gauguin sailed for the South Seas, in order to escape from European urban civilization, living first in Tahiti and later in the Marquesas Islands. While there he contracted syphilis. His painting retained expressive color, denial of perspective, and thick, flat forms; and his works became more powerful as his subject matter became more distinctive, his scale larger, and his compositions more simplified. His subjects ranged from scenes of ordinary life to brooding scenes of superstitious dread. Gauguin's masterpiece is the monumental allegory Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts). From 1893 to 1895 he stayed in Paris, Copenhagen and Brittany. He was not successful with his large colorful South Seas Pictures symbolizing life, the incunabula of "exotism" and "primitivism". From 1895 to 1901 he was again in Tahiti, also producing sculptural work. His physical condition worsened, aggravated by alcohol. In 1897 he published his autobiographical writings Noa Noa, which are still read. In 1898 he tried to commit suicide. In 1900 the art dealer Vollard offered him a contract. In 1901 Gauguin removed to the Marquesa island of Dominique, where he fought against the colonial administration and was sentenced in 1903. He died exhausted and impoverished at the age of 54.