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Gauguin, Paul(pôl gōgăN`), 1848–1903, French painter and woodcut artist, b. Paris; son of a journalist and a French-Peruvian mother.
Gauguin spent the first six years of his life with his family in Lima Peru; as an adolescent he was a sailor in the French merchant navy, then a successful stockbroker in Paris. In 1874 he began to paint on weekends. By the age of 35, with the encouragement of Camille PissarroPissarro, Camille
, 1830–1903, French impressionist painter, b. St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. In Paris from 1855, he came under the influence of Corot and the Barbizon school.
..... Click the link for more information. , he devoted himself completely to his art, having given up his position and separated (1885) from his wife and five children. Allying himself with the Impressionists (see impressionismimpressionism,
in music, a French movement in the late 19th and early 20th cent. It was begun by Debussy in reaction to the dramatic and dynamic emotionalism of romantic music, especially that of Wagner.
..... Click the link for more information. , in painting), he exhibited with them from 1879 to 1886. The next year he sailed for Panama and Martinique. In protest against the "disease" of civilization, he determined to live primitively, but illness forced him to return to France. The next years were spent in Paris and Brittany, with a brief but tragic stay with Van GoghVan Gogh, Vincent
, 1853–90, postimpressionist painter, b. the Netherlands. Van Gogh's works are perhaps better known generally than those of any other painter. His brief, turbulent, and tragic life is thought to epitomize the mad genius legend.
..... Click the link for more information. at Arles.
Later Life and Art
In 1888, Gauguin and Émile Bernard proposed a synthetist theory of art, emphasizing the use of flat planes and bright, nonnaturalistic color in conjunction with symbolic or primitive subjects. The Yellow Christ (Albright-Knox Art Gall., Buffalo) is characteristic of this period. Gauguin continued to search for a greater sense of spirituality and a greater sexual freedom than could be found in late 19th-century Europe, and in 1891, after selling 30 canvases, he used the proceeds to sail to Tahiti. There he spent two years living poorly, using Tahitian themes to paint some of his finest pictures, and writing Noa Noa (tr. 1947), an autobiographical novel set in Tahiti. He also created a group of carved wooden sculptures and superb woodcut prints depicting Tahitian subjects as well as lithographs and ceramics. In 1893 he returned to France, collected a legacy, and exhibited his work, rousing some interest but making very little money. Disheartened and sick from syphilis, which had afflicted him for many years, he again set out for the South Seas in 1895. There his last years were spent in poverty, despair, and physical suffering. In 1897 he attempted suicide and failed, living to paint for five more years. He died on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. Islands.
Gauguin's Style and Impact on Modern Art
Today Gauguin is recognized as a highly influential founding father of modern art. He rejected the tradition of western naturalism, using nature as a starting point from which to abstract figures and symbols. He stressed linear patterns and remarkable color harmonies, imbuing his paintings with a profound sense of mystery. He revived the art of woodcutting with his free and daring knife work and his expressive, irregular shapes and strong contrasts. He produced some fine lithographs and a number of pottery pieces.
There are major examples of Gauguin's work in the United States, including The Day of the God (Art Inst., Chicago), Ia Orana Maria (1891; Metropolitan Mus.), By the Sea (1892; National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.), and his masterpiece Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? (1897; Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston). Somerset MaughamMaugham, Somerset
(William Somerset Maugham) , 1874–1965, English writer, b. Paris. He was noted as an expert storyteller and a master of the technique of fiction.
..... Click the link for more information. 's Moon and Sixpence (1919), based loosely on the life of Gauguin, did much to promote the Gauguin legend that arose shortly after his death.
See D. Wildenstein, Gauguin: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings (2 vol., 2002), and C. Hombury and C. Riopelle, ed., Gauguin: Portraits (catalog, 2019); his letters ed. by M. Malingue (tr. 1949); his intimate journals tr. by V. W. Brooks (1958); P. Gauguin, My Father, Paul Gauguin (tr. 1937); biographies by D. Sweetman (1995) and M. M. Mathews (2001); studies by R. J. Goldwater (1957), B. Danielsson (tr. 1965), W. Andersen (1971), A. Juszczak et al. (2009), and B. Thomson, ed (2010); N. Denekamp, The Gauguin Atlas (2019).