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Paul Gauguin

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist, whose work deeply influenced the French avant-garde and modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. As a descendant of the Peruvian nobility, he spent his early childhood in Lima, Peru. This nomadic upbringing aroused his curiosity for exotic lands and cultures, which would eventually lead him to Tahiti and Martinique. Gauguin discovered art relatively late in life. He was married and working in Paris as a stockbroker when he befriended painter, Camille Pissarro. By 1879 he was Pissarro’s unofficial pupil and patron, and after the stock market crashed in 1882, Gauguin decided to become an artist full-time. His early paintings were mainly Impressionist landscapes influenced by Pissarro and Paul Cezanne, who he met through Pissarro.

In the following years, Gauguin traveled to Martinique, Panama, and the French region, Brittany. During his second visit to Pont-Aven, Brittany in 1888, Gauguin worked side by side with Post-Impressionist artist Emile Bernard. Their fruitful encounter resulted in Gauguin’s groundbreaking painting Vision After the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888). In the painting, Gauguin created a synthesis between two realities: the everyday life of the Breton women and their vision of the biblical event. He used the term Synthetism to describe his work because he aimed to synthesize between the outward appearance of the subject, the artist’s emotional response to the subject, and the aesthetic considerations of line, form, and color. Over the following years, he traveled between Brittany and Paris and became affiliated with the Symbolist movement.

In 1891, Gauguin left France to travel to the island of Tahiti, which he imagined as a ‘primitive paradise’ free from the constraints of modern society. However, once he arrived, he realized that Tahiti was profoundly changed by French colonial policies and that the place he imagined did not exist. In his art, he tried to reimagine this lost paradise and experience the native Polynesian culture and customs. Paintings such as The Seed of the Areoi (1892) and The Moon and the Earth (1893) represented the artist’s interpretations of ancient Polynesian myths.

Gauguin had a profound interest in non-Western cultures and traditions, and in his works, he often appropriated elements of Japanese, Javanese, and Egyptian art. His ability to fuse a variety of cultural influences and sources resulted in unique artistic creations. In 1893, Gauguin returned to France where he found little success and struggled financially. In 1895, he moved permanently to Tahiti. There, he continued to struggle with illness and poverty, and in 1898 he even tried to commit suicide. His late works include the monumental painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are we Going? (1897-1898) and Two Tahitian Women (1899). Even though Gauguin continued to depict Tahiti as an idealized paradise, he became disillusioned by the Westernization of the island. In 1901, he moved to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa, where he died two years later, on March 8, 1903. Gauguin was largely unappreciated during his lifetime, and only after his death, he received recognition for his experimental use of color and innovative Synethetist style.

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Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (/ɡoʊˈɡæn/; French: [øʒɛn ɑ̃ʁi pɔl ɡoɡɛ̃]; 7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist. Unappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and Synthetist style that were distinctly different from Impressionism. Towards the end of his life he spent ten years in French Polynesia, and most of his paintings from this time depict people or landscapes from that region.

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, partially from the efforts of art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who organized exhibitions of his work late in his career and assisted in organizing two important posthumous exhibitions in Paris. Gauguin was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer. 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.

Gauguin was born in Paris to Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal on June 7, 1848. His birth coincided with revolutionary upheavals throughout Europe that year. His father, a 34-year-old liberal journalist, came from a family of petit-bourgeoisie entrepreneurs residing in Orléans. He was compelled to flee France when the newspaper for which he wrote was suppressed by French authorities. Gauguin's mother was the 22-year-old daughter of Andre Chazal, an engraver, and Flora Tristan, an author and activist in early socialist movements. Their union ended when Andre assaulted his wife Flora and was sentenced to prison for attempted murder.

Paul Gauguin's maternal grandmother, Flora Tristan, was the illegitimate daughter of Thérèse Laisnay and Don Mariano de Tristan Moscoso. Details of Thérèse's family background are not known; her father, Don Mariano, was a Spanish nobleman and an officer of the Dragoons. Members of the wealthy Tristan Moscoso family held powerful positions in Peru. Nonetheless, Don Mariano's unexpected death plunged his mistress and daughter Flora into poverty. When Flora's marriage with Andre failed, she petitioned for and obtained a small monetary settlement from her father's Peruvian relatives. She sailed to Peru in hopes of enlarging her share of the Tristan Moscoso family fortune. This never materialized; but she successfully published a popular travelogue of her experiences in Peru which launched her literary career in 1838. An active supporter of early socialist societies, Gauguin's maternal grandmother helped to lay the foundations for the 1848 revolutionary movements. Placed under surveillance by French police and suffering from overwork, she died in 1844. Her grandson Paul "idolized his grandmother, and kept copies of her books with him to the end of his life."

In 1850, Clovis Gauguin departed for Peru with his wife Alina and young children in hopes of continuing his journalistic career under the auspices of his wife's South American relations. He died of a heart attack en route, and Alina arrived in Peru a widow with the 18-month-old Paul and his 2 ½ year-old sister, Marie. Gauguin's mother was welcomed by her paternal granduncle, whose son-in-law would shortly assume the presidency of Peru. To the age of six, Paul enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attended by nursemaids and servants. He retained a vivid memory of that period of his childhood which instilled "indelible impressions of Peru that haunted him the rest of his life."

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