07 June 1848
08 May 1903
1873 - 1903
Paul Gaugin was a French Post-Impressionist painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and write, and was an important figure in the Symbolist movement, and his experimentation was indicative of the Synthetist style of modern art. He also paved the way to the appreciation of primitivism, as his paintings employed many of the simplistic techniques employed by Naïve artists. He lived with his family as a child, and moved to Orleans’ France at the age of seven. As an adult, he joined the French Navy and later was employed as a stockbroker. In France, he began painting in his free time, and became friends Camille Pisarro, who introduced him to other artists.
As an individual he was prone to bouts of depression and once attempted suicide. As a painter, he was disappointed with Impressionism, as he felt that the tradition of European painting had simply become imitative, and lacked the symbolic depth that he desired. He also thoroughly enjoyed the art of Africa and Asia, which was full of symbolic depth, vigor, and meaning.
In his escape from the traditional European paintings, he sought to find a tropical paradise, in which he could paint in an increasingly primitive style and live off the land. He left his wife and five children to live with her family, and spent a short time as a laborer on the Panama Canal. Lacking recognition for his work and with no money, he sailed to the tropical islands of Tahiti and Marquesas, in French Polynesia. His exploits there generated much interest, especially his reputed sexual exploits with young native girls, some of which appear as the subjects in his paintings. In Polynesia, he often sided with the natives in their conflicts with the church and colonial authorities, eventually writing a book about his experiences there.
Gaugin’s physical escape allowed his stylistic escape of post-Renaissance painting, as he paid little attention to classical perspective and eliminated gradations of color and shading. Inspired by the primitivism of the countries in which he lived, he also used primitive elements in his paintings to great success.
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?, 1897
This is Paul Gaugin’s most famous painting, and he considered it his masterpiece, and the culmination of his thoughts. In Tahiti, as he was painting his masterpiece, Gaugin declared that he would commit suicide upon its completion. Although this was something he had previously attempted, this was not the case, as the artist died of syphilis in 1903. The painting was meant to be read from right to left, with the three main figures in the painting representing the three questions of the title. The figures are arranged from the beginning stages of life, from young figures with a child, to the middle aged figure in the middle, to the elder figure on the left of the painting. The idol in the background, situated behind the elder figure, represents the “Beyond.”