Gauguin was a French painter, printmaker, sculptor, and ceramicist. Paul
Gauguin frequently combined the people and objects in his paintings in
novel ways, evoking in the process a mysterious, personal world. Paul
Gauguin was born in Paris on June 7, 1848, to a French father, a
journalist from Orléans, and a mother of Spanish-Peruvian descent. When
Paul was 3 his parents sailed for Peru after the victory of Louis
Napoleon. Gauguin's early career did not include art. Paul Gauguin first
worked as a sailor for the French merchant fleet for six years. After
that he became a successful stock-broker at the Paris stock-exchange. It
wasn't until 1871 that Gauguin began to paint as a hobby. He was
inspired by an exhibition of Impressionist paintings and was deeply
impressed. In 1873 Paul Gauguin married Mette Gad, a Danish from
Copenhagen and the gaugions had five children.
Paul Gauguin was an enthusiastic Sunday painter. The Salon of 1876 accepted one of his pictures, and he started a collection of works by impressionist painters. As time went on, his desire to paint became ever stronger, and in 1883, Paul Gauguin, now 35, decided to give up business and devote himself entirely to painting. When their money ran out Gauguin's wife took their five children to live with her parents in Copenhagen, Denmark. Gauguin followed her, but he soon returned with his eldest son, Clovis, to Paris. There Paul Gauguin supported himself by pasting advertisements on walls.
In one of Gauguin's early paintings ,"Vision after the Sermon,/Jacob Wrestling with the Angel "(shown above) Breton women observe Jacob wrestling with a stranger who turns out to be an angel. This is an episode described in the book of Genesis in the Bible. Paul Gauguin is saying that the faith of these women enabled them to see miraculous events of the past as vividly as if they were occurring before them.
Paul Gauguin lived for a few months in the village of Pont-Aven in Brittany, then left for the island of Martinique, first stopping to work as a laborer on the Panama Canal. Paul Gauguin returned to Pont-Aven in February 1888, gathered about him a group of painters, including Émile Bernard, and preached and practiced a style he called synthetism, which involved pure color patterns, strong, expressive outlines, and formal simplifications. 1988 was the year when Gauguin's painting style made a distinctive turn into what should become his trademark style, the use of bold, unrealistic colors, large flat areas and the use of mystic subjects.
The painting "The Yellow Christ" (shown here) is typical for this period. Paul Gauguin used a yellow, wooden statue from a church near Pont-Aven as his model. He depicts Breton women as if they were in the presence of the actual death of Jesus Christ. The influence of two-dimensional Japanese art is clearly visible. Everything Japanese was very en vogue towards the end of the nineteenth century and had an important influence on impressionist and post-impressionist painters.
Paul Gauguin went to Arles in Southern France where he stayed and worked with van Gogh for two months. The two men first understood each other well. But problems soon emerged. Paul Gauguin was a proud, arrogant, sarcastic, and sophisticated person. Van Gogh was open and strongly needed human companionship. Soon conflicts and quarrels became frequent. It culminated in van Gogh cutting off his own ear. Paul Gauguin quickly returned to Paris.
In Paris Paul Gauguin resumed his nontraditional and artistic existence until 1891, when he left France and the Western civilization he had come to dislike. Paul Gauguin went to Tahiti and began a new chapter in both his life and his art. Gauguin embodied the dissatisfaction with bourgeois (middle-class) Parisian existence felt by several postimpressionist painters.
Paul Gauguin achieved what was perhaps the most extreme break with that society when he left Europe for a non-Western culture. When Gauguin arrived in Tahiti, he did not settle in the capital, Papeete, because Europeans lived there. Instead, he lived with the natives some twenty-five miles away. Paul Gauguin perceived Tahiti as a land of beautiful and strong people, who were unspoiled by Western civilization. He enjoyed the bright, warm colors there. Paul Gauguin took a native girl as his wife, and she bore him a son. Gauguin's Tahitian paintings celebrate the lushness and mysterious splendor of his new environment. During this period artist Paul Gauguin created some of his finest paintings. At the same time they are seldom pictures of actual Tahitian life.
Paul Gauguin's Tahiti artwork contain combinations of objects and persons taken out of their normal settings, as did several of his paintings done in Brittany. In "La Orana Maria" (shown here) a Tahitian woman, her young son, and two women standing nearby are shown in the obvious poses of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child with attendant saints or worshiping angels.
Paul Gauguin stayed in Tahiti for two years. Ill and poor, Gauguin returned to France in August 1893, where to his delight he found that he had inherited a small sum from an uncle. Gauguin discovered woodcuts as an interesting printmaking technique. After his return from his first voyage to the South Seas, Paul Gauguin planned to publish a book, "Noa Noa", about his Manao tupapau "Spirit of the Dead Watching Gauguin Print" experience in Tahiti. The book was never published, but Gauguin made a set of ten color woodcuts meant as illustrations. After the Noa Noa set, Gauguin created his largest woodblock Manao tupapau.
With his predilection for "primitive" and exotic art, Paul Gauguin produced some thirty more woodcuts, mostly monotypes. In 1895 an unsuccessful auction of Gauguin's paintings was held. Disappointed and low on funds, Paul Gauguin sailed for Tahiti again in the spring. Gauguin settled again among the natives, this time in the north. His health grew poorer. An ankle Gauguin had broken in Brittany did not heal properly, and he suffered from syphilis and strokes. Paul Gauguin was harassed by the government authorities, whom he flouted but upon whom he had to depend for menial jobs in order to support himself. In 1901 Gauguin moved to the Marquesas Islands. Paul Gauguin died alone in the Marquesas Islands from a stroke on May 8, 1903.