Paul Gauguin


Artist Biography:

The artistic influence of Paul Gauguin has been enormous. He is one of the main sources from which non-naturalistic 20th Century art has emerged. His life history is remarkable. His father was French and his mother Peruvian and he himself was born in Paris in 1848. Part of his childhood was spent in Peru and between 1865 and 1871 he was a sailor. In 1871 he made a startling change to stockbroking and developed himself as a Sunday painter. During this period he collected the works of the Impressionists and finally joined in their exhibitions with his own work between 1881 and 1886. In 1883 he was able to abandon his stockbroking job and after much strife left his family and went to live in Brittany at Pont Aven. Except for occasional trips to Paris, one trip to Panama and one to Martinique, Gauguin lived in Brittany until 1890. It was during this period that the disastrous encounter occurred between Gauguin and Van Gogh, during which the two artists squabbled about art, leading Van Gogh to chop off his own ear. In 1891 Gauguin went to Tahiti, going back to Paris in 1893 because of lack of money and returning with relief to the South Seas in 1895. By this time his health was failing and he had been seriously hurt in a brawl with sailors in Brittany in 1894, so his remaining years were spent in miserable poverty and ill health. Despite his hardships, he continued bravely to confront the colonial authorities with his championing of native causes. He died in 1903 in Atuana. Gauguin's early works are ranked with the Impressionists, in particular Pissaro and Cezanne, but after 1886 he tried to introduce more colour to his art. His trip to Martinique enhanced this tendency and, having met Emil Bernard in 1888 in Brittany, Gauguin was highly influenced by the man's knowledge of medieval art. Gauguin's own interest in primitive sculpture, Japanese, Romanesque and Far Eastern art, led him to leave Impressionism behind and attempt to express the simple life of primitive peoples through an art that was free from the restrictions and conventions of the naturalistic tradition.

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