Gauguin, Paul Eugène Henri

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gauguin, Paul Eugène Henri


Born June 7, 1848 in Paris; died May 8, 1903, in the village of Atuona, in the Marquesas. French painter.

In his youth Gauguin was a seaman and from 1871, a stockbroker in Paris. In the 1870’s he began painting on his own. In 1883 he left the stock exchange and devoted all his time to art, which resulted in poverty, separation from his family, and wanderings. In 1886 he lived in Pont-Aven (Brittany) and in 1887 in Panama and Martinique. In 1888 he worked for two months in Aries with V. Van Gogh, and during 1889-91 he lived mainly in Le Pouldu (Brittany).

Gauguin’s early works are associated with impressionism. Later, his disgust with bourgeois civilization awakened his interest in folk art, with its naïve perception of the world, as well as in the art of ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, and the ancient Orient. Gauguin sought generalized images and the secret meaning of phenomena, and he took an interest in old established customs in Brittany, Aries, and Martinique (The Vision After the Sermon, 1888, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh; The Yellow Christ, 1889, the Albright Gallery, Buffalo). His search brought him closer to symbolism. As a result, Gauguin and a group of young artists who were close to him—the so-called Pont-Aven school—created a new system of painting (synthetism), which used generalized and simplified forms and lines. Chiaroscuro modeling of objects and airy, linear perspective were rejected in favor of a rhythmic juxtaposition of flat areas of pure color that filled the outlines of objects completely and played an important role in creating the emotional and psychological content of the painting (Café in Aries, 1888, the A. S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow).

Gauguin’s system of painting continued to develop in the pictures he painted in Tahiti (Oceania). He went there in 1891, driven by creative seekings and the dream of an ideal society. It seemed to Gauguin that here, far from European civilization, man lived in harmony with bountiful tropical nature that freed him from the struggle for survival. In 1895, after a brief stay in France, he left the country for good and returned to Oceania (at first to Tahiti, and in 1901 to the island of Hiva Oa). Although the realities of colonial life failed to satisfy Gauguin’s Utopian dream, he did create in his canvases a sense of a primeval paradise, saturated with sunshine and inhabited by people of spiritual integrity living in harmony with nature (The Tahitian Pastorales, 1893, The Hermitage, Leningrad; The Ford, 1901, the A. S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts; and And the Gold of Their Bodies, 1901, Museum of Impressionism, Paris). The pictures painted in Oceania seem to contain the exotic fragrance of an unfamiliar world and the poetic tenor of Polynesian culture and mythology, which Gauguin was the first European artist to discover. The emotional saturation of color, the flat and static composition, the organic fusion of decorative and monumental principles, the newness and significance of images, which are characteristic of his works, stimulated in many ways the creative seekings of painters of the early 20th century. Gauguin also worked in sculpture, graphic arts, and ceramics. In a number of literary and critical works he presented the theoretical basis of his creative method.


Avant et après. Paris, 1923.
Noa-Noa: Voyage de Tahiti. Paris [1924]. Incomplete Russian translation: Noa-Noa: Puteshestvie na Taiti. Moscow [1914]; 2nd ed., Moscow, 1918.
Lettres à safemme et à ses amis. Paris, 1946.


Kantor-Gukovskaia, A. S. Pol’ Gogen: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo. Lenin-grad-Moscow, 1965.
Daniel’son, B. Gogen v Polinezii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1969.
Wildenstein, G. Gauguin: Catalogue. Paris, 1964.
Cachin, F. Gauguin. Paris, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.