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One of the few iconic artists who ever lived. Just to say his name conjures up imagery that is both brilliant and entirely unique to him. His passion was well noted as was his life. He lived the fantasy of giving up everything and going primitive. The works he created while living in Tahiti are sublime. Here in his own words he describes a painter. “The painter hasn’t the task, like a mason, of building, compass in hand, a house to a plan furnished by an architect. It is good for the young to have a model, but let them draw a curtain over it while they paint it. It is better to paint from memory. then what is yours will be yours; your sensation, your intelligence and your soul will get across to the beholder.”
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin 7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist who was not well appreciated until after his death. Gauguin was later recognized for his experimental use of colors and synthetist style that was distinguishably different from Impressionism. His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse. Gauguin’s art became popular after his death and many of his paintings were in the possession of Russian collector, Sergei Shchukin. 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.
He 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 1849 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. His mother admired Pre-Columbian pottery, collecting Inca pots that some colonists dismissed as barbaric. One of Gauguin’s few early memories of his mother was of her wearing the traditional costume of Lima, one eye peeping from behind her manteau, the mysterious one-eye veil 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, moving to Orléans to live with his grandfather. The Gauguins came originally from the area and were market gardeners and greengrocers: gauguin means ‘walnut-grower’. His father had broken 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 in which he served 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 Paris Bourse; Gauguin was twenty-three. He became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for eleven years.
In 1873, around the same time as he became a stockbroker, Gauguin began painting in his free time. His Parisian life centred on the 9th arrondissement. Gauguin lived at 21 rue la Bruyére. All around were the cafés frequented 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. In 1877 Gauguin, “moved downmarket and across the river to the poorer, newer, urban sprawls” of Vaugirard. Here, on the third floor at 8 rue Carcel, he had the first home in which he had a studio. He showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882 – (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.
Poster of the 1889 Exhibition of Paintings by the Impressionist and Synthetist Group, at Café des Arts, known as the The Volpini Exhibition, 1889.
The vogue for Gauguin’s work started soon after his death. Many of his later paintings were acquired by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. A substantial part of his collection is displayed in the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage. Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale; their price may be as high as $39.2 million US$.
Gauguin’s posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a stunning and powerful influence on the French avant-garde and in particular Pablo Picasso’s paintings. In the autumn of 1906, Picasso made paintings of oversized nude women, and monumental sculptural figures that recalled the work of Paul Gauguin and showed his interest in primitive art. Picasso’s paintings of massive figures from 1906 were directly influenced by Gauguin’s sculpture, painting and his writing as well. The power evoked by Gauguin’s work led directly to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907.