Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His bold experimentation with colouring 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 exponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.
Paul Gauguin, 1891, unknown photographer Young life
Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France to journalist Clovis Gauguin and half-Peruvian Aline Maria Chazal, the daughter of proto-socialist leader Flora Tristan. In 1851 the family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period. Clovis died on the voyage, leaving three-year old Paul, his mother and his sister to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima, Peru with Paul's uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Paul in his art.
At the age of seven, Paul and his family returned to France. They moved to Orléans, France to live with his grandfather. He soon learned French and excelled in his studies. 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 navy where he stayed for two years. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette Sophie Gad. Over the next ten years, they had five children.
Early art career
Gauguin had been interested in art since his childhood. In his free time, he began painting. He also visited galleries frequently and purchased work by emerging artists. Gauguin formed a friendship with artist Camille Pissarro, who introduced him to various other artists. As he progressed in his art, Gauguin rented a studio, and showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882. Over two summer holidays, he painted with Camille Pissarro and occasionally Paul Cézanne.
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
1897, oil on canvas
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USABy 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, where he pursued a business career as a stockbroker. Driven to paint full-time, he returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family in Denmark. Without adequate subsistence, his wife (Mette Sophie Gadd) and their five children returned to her family. Gauguin outlived two of his children.
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). While in Martinique, Gauguin traveled widely there and apparently came into contact with the small community of Indian immigrants, a contact that would later influence his art through the incorporation of Indian symbols. Gauguin, along with Emile Bernard, Charles Laval, Emile 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.
Influences: European, African and Asian art
Like his friend Vincent van Gogh, with whom in 1888 he spent nine weeks painting in Arles, Paul Gauguin experienced bouts of depression and at one time attempted suicide. 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 1889 exhibition organized by Les XX.