The Art of Paul Gauguin: A Painter’s Restless Life

The Art of Paul Gauguin: A Painter’s Restless Life

Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist who was born on the 7th of June in 1848 and died at the age of 54 on the 8th of May in 1903.

by David Stone

for Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

Paul Gauguin on His Way

Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin in 1891

By the end of his life, Gauguin was known for his colorful paintings which featured nude figures, landscapes and still life subjects with an emphasis on primary colors and flat patterns.

But that’s not how his life started out.

In the Beginning

Gauguin was born in Paris on June 7th, 1848, to a French journalist and politically active father. He spent much of his childhood traveling with his family throughout Europe and America due to his father’s work.

In the spring of 1850, Gauguin’s father, Clovis, left for Peru with his wife Aline and young children to pursue a journalistic career under the direction of his wife’s South American acquaintances. On the way, he died of a heart attack, and Aline arrived in Peru as a widow with Paul, then 18 months old, and his 2 1/2-year-old sister Marie.

Gauguin’s mother was greeted by her male great-uncle, José Rufino Echenique, who would shortly take office as president of Peru.

Paul had a luxurious childhood, with nursemaids and servants in attendance. He kept a distinct memory of his early years in Peru, which left “permanent impressions on him.”

Return to Paris

He returned to Paris at the age of 13 and enrolled in the prestigious Lycee Bonaparte. He however failed his exams and was unable to continue his education.

Following this, he joined the French merchant marine as a second mate, working his way up through the ranks. In 1871, Gauguin enlisted in the National Guard to fight in the Franco-Prussian War and was honorably discharged from the military.

After the war, Gauguin again returned to Paris to continue his career as an artist. He became involved with a group of avant-garde Parisian painters known as the Impressionists, closely associated with artists such as Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.

About Gauguin’s marriage to Mette-Sophie Gad

In 1873, Gauguin married Mette-Sophie Gad, a Danish woman seven years his senior. The couple had five children together, though only two survived to adulthood: Clovis Edgar (born in 1874) and Aline Marie (born in 1879).

Gauguin’s marriage was strained from the outset by his inability to support his family on a painter’s income. His wife often worked to supplement the family’s income, and Gauguin was frequently away from home, either traveling or pursuing other interests.

In 1883, Gauguin and his family moved to Copenhagen so that he could pursue an opportunity to exhibit his work at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition. The exhibition was a financial failure, and Gauguin returned to Paris soon afterward.

In 1886, Gauguin traveled to Martinique in the Caribbean with his friend, the Swedish painter Anders Zorn. The trip was intended to be a painting excursion, but Gauguin’s health soon deteriorated in the tropical climate. He returned to France in 1887, once again penniless and in failing health.

In 1888, Gauguin rented a small cottage in the town of Pont-Aven in Brittany, France. It was here that he painted some of his most famous works, including The Yellow Christ (1889) and The Vision After the Sermon (1888).

Gauguin’s time in Pont-Aven was cut short by the outbreak of the 1889 revolution in France. He returned to Paris, where he met and befriended Vincent van Gogh. The two artists painted together for a brief period before Gauguin left for Brittany once again.

Gauguin’s Move to the South Pacific

In 1891, Gauguin sailed for Tahiti, where he hoped to find a society that was unaffected by Western civilization. He settled in the town of Papeete on the island of Tahiti and soon began to distance himself from European culture.

Gauguin adopted the dress and customs of the Tahitian people and took a Tahitian mistress, Teha’amana (also known as Taiao). He also began to explore Polynesian mythology and religious beliefs.

In 1895, Gauguin returned to France, where he met with little success in selling his paintings. He soon returned to Tahiti, where he continued to live and work for the rest of his life.

Gauguin’s health declined in the years before his death, and he suffered from bouts of depression. He died of syphilis in 1903 at the age of 54.

Gaugin’s Legacy

Gauguin is most famous for his paintings of Tahitian women which are characterized by their bold colors and simplified forms. He also painted in Brittany and Martinique, with a unique style that was inspired by the folklore of each region.

However, like many avant-garde artists at the time, he struggled to make a living from his work and became increasingly dependent on alcohol and opium to help him cope with his depression.

Gauguin eventually moved to the remote Marquesas Islands, where he lived in isolation with a native Polynesian woman named Teha’amana. This relationship was the subject of much scandal at the time and Gauguin was criticized for his “primitivist” ideas about art.

In 1901, Gauguin returned to Tahiti, where he continued to paint until his death from syphilis in 1903.

His work was largely forgotten until the mid-20th Century when it was rediscovered by a new generation of artists who were interested in his bold use of color and unique approach to composition.

Today, Gauguin is considered one of the most important French painters of the 19th century and his work continues to inspire artists around the world. His paintings are still on display at museums throughout Europe and America, including the Tate Modern in London and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Gauguin’s legacy is one of boldness, color, and innovation.

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