Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 May 9, 1903) was
a leading Post-Impressionist artist. Best known as a painter, 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 exponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.
Born in Paris, he was descended from Spanish settlers in South America
and the viceroy of Peru, and spent his early childhood in Lima. He was,
through Alina María Chazal, the grandson of Flora Tristan, a founder
of modern feminism. After his education in Orléans, France, Gauguin
spent six years sailing around the world in the merchant marines and then
in the French navy. Upon his return to France in 1870, he took a job as
a broker's assistant. His guardian Gustave Arosa, a successful businessman
and art collector, introduced Gauguin to Camille Pissarro in 1875.
A successful stockbroker during week-days, Gauguin spent holidays painting
with Pissarro and Cézanne. Although his first efforts were clumsy,
he made rapid progress. By 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen,
where he unsuccessfully pursued a business career. 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.
Like his friend Vincent Van Gogh, with whom 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 (Japonisme). He was invited to participate
in the 1889 exhibition organized by Les XX.
Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin evolved
towards Cloisonnism, a style given its name by the critic Édouard
Dujardin in response to Emile Bernard's cloisonne enamelling technique.
Gauguin was very appreciative of Bernard's art and of his daring with
the employment of a style which suited Gauguin in his quest to express
the essence of the objects in his art. In The Yellow Christ (1889), often
cited as a quintessential Cloisonnist work, the image was reduced to areas
of pure colour separated by heavy black outlines. In such works Gauguin
paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle
gradations of colourthus dispensing with the two most characteristic
principles of post-Renaissance painting. His painting later evolved towards
"Synthetism" in which neither form nor colour predominate but
each has an equal role.
In 1891, Gauguin, frustrated by lack of recognition at home and financially
destitute, sailed to the tropics to escape European civilization and "everything
that is artificial and conventional." (Before this he had made several
attempts to find a tropical paradise where he could 'live on fish and
fruit' and paint in his increasingly primitive style, including short
stays in Martinique and as a worker on the Panama Canal). Living in Mataiea
Village in Tahiti, he painted "Fatata te Miti" ("By the
Sea"), "La Orana Maria" (Ave Maria) and other depictions
of Tahitian life. He moved to Punaauia in 1897, where he created the masterpiece
painting "Where Do We Come From" and then lived the rest of
his life in the Marquesas Islands, returning to France only once. His
works of that period are full of quasi-religious symbolism and an exoticized
view of the inhabitants of Polynesia. In Polynesia he clashed often with
the colonial authorities and with the Catholic Church. During this period
he also wrote the book Avant et Après (before and after), that
is a fragmented collection of observations about life in Polynesia, memories
from his life and comments on literature and paintings. In 1903 due to
a problem with the church and the government he was sentenced to three
months in prison, and he owed a fine. At that time he was being supported
by an art dealer. He died of syphilis before he could start the prison
sentence. His body had been weakened by alcoholism and a dissipated life
style. He was 54 years old.
Paul Gauguin died in 1903 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière
Calvaire), Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.
Quotations by Gauguin
* Life is like a song, you have to enjoy it while it plays because you
never know if it will come on again.
* Life is like a boardwalk. There may be some tacks and nails, but you
will get through it.
* In order to do something new we must go back to the source, to humanity
in its infancy.
* I have tried to make everything breathe in this painting: belief,
passive suffering, religious and primitive style, and the great nature
with its scream.
* How do you see this tree? Is it really green? Use green, then, the
most beautiful green on your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don't
be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.
* To me, barbarism is a rejuvenation.
* Art is either plagiarism or revolution.
* I shut my eyes in order to see.
* Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.
* Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
* How long have I been here? Hence, foreword, for I shall not know.
For I have been traveling for too long. My bones too weary to remember
my age. Hence, how long have I been here? Thou shalt never know.
 Quotations about Gauguin
* He put so much mystery in so much brightness. (Mallarme)
* Gauguin's paintings always seemed to me cruel, metallic and lacking
in general emotion. He is always absent from his own work. Everything
is there except the painter himself. (Vlaminck)
* For Europeans the romantic strangeness and eroticism of his paintings
of the islanders, the festivities with their unknown symbolism, are inherently
attractive, and this has tended to obscure Gauguin's real contribution.
The quality of his art does not reside in revelations of another culture
but in the aesthetic position he arrived at. (Trewin Copplestone)
* Portentous allegories about the destiny of mankind. (John Russell)
* The popular fancy that Gauguin 'discovered himself' as a painter in
Tahiti is quite wrong. All the components of his work - the flat patterns
of colour, the wreathing outlines, the desire to make symbolic statements
about fate and emotion, the interest in 'primitive' art, and the thought
that colour could function as a language - were assembled in France before
1891. (Robert Hughes)
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 Dollars.
Gauguin influenced many other painters, but one especially notable connection
is his imparting to Arthur Frank Mathews the use of an intense color palette.
Mathews met Gauguin in the late 1890s while both were at the Academie
Julian. Mathews took this influence in his founding of the California
Arts and Crafts or California Decorative movement.
The Japanese styled Gauguin Museum, opposite the Botanical Gardens of
Papeari in Papeari, Tahiti, contains some exhibits, documents, photographs,
reproductions and original sketches and block prints of Gauguin and Tahitians.
In 2003, the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center opened in Atuona in the Marquesas
Paul Gauguin's life inspired Somerset Maugham to write The Moon and Sixpence.
Paul Gauguin. (2007, January 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Retrieved 01:49, February 2, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Paul_Gauguin&oldid=104702291
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