Paul Gauguin, in full Eugène-Henri-Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist.
The artist, whose work has been categorized as Post-Impressionist, Synthetist, and Symbolist, is particularly well known for his creative relationship with Vincent van Gogh as well as for his self-imposed exile in Tahiti, French Polynesia.
His artistic experiments influenced many avant-garde developments in the early 20th century.
He was born in Paris, France on June 7, 1848 to journalist Clovis Gauguin and half-Peruvian Aline Maria Chazal, the daughter of proto-socialist leader Flora Tristan.
After Napoleon III’s coup d’état in 1848, Gauguin’s father took the family to Peru, where he planned to establish a newspaper, but he died en route, and Gauguin’s mother stayed with her children on the Lima estate of her uncle for four years before taking the family back to France.
At age 17 Gauguin enlisted in the merchant marine, and for six years he sailed around the world.
In 1873, around the time he became a stockbroker, Gauguin began painting in his free time. His Parisian life centered on the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Gauguin lived at 15, rue la Bruyère. Nearby were the cafés frequented by the Impressionists. Gauguin also visited galleries frequently and purchased work by emerging artists. He formed a friendship with Camille Pissarro and visited him on Sundays to paint in his garden. Pissarro introduced him to various other artists.
In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad. Over the next ten years, they had five children: Émile, Aline, Clovis, Jean René, and Paul Rollon.
Gauguin lost his job when the French stock market crashed in 1882, an occurrence he saw as a positive development, because it would allow him to “paint every day.” In an attempt to support his family, he unsuccessfully sought employment with art dealers, while continuing to travel to the countryside to paint with Pissarro.
By 1884, Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he pursued a business career as a tarpaulin salesman. It was not a success: He could not speak Danish, and the Danes did not want French tarpaulins. Mette became the chief breadwinner, giving French lessons to trainee diplomats.
In October 1888 Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh invited Gauguin to join him at Arles, France. Gauguin was a proud, arrogant, sarcastic, and sophisticated person. Van Gogh was open and strongly needed human
companionship. They did not get along and Gauguin returned to Paris. There he resumed his bohemian (nontraditional and artistic) existence until 1891, when he left France and the Western (characterized by European and American ideals) civilization he had come to dislike and went to Tahiti.
On the evening of 23 December 1888, according to a much later account of Gauguin’s, Vincent confronted Gauguin with a straight razor. Later the same evening, he cut off his own left ear. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a woman who worked at a brothel Gauguin and Vincent had both visited, and asked her to “keep this object carefully, in remembrance of me”. Vincent was hospitalized the following day and Gauguin left Arles. They never saw each other again, but they continued to correspond, and in 1890 Gauguin went so far as to propose they form an artist studio in Antwerp. An 1889 sculptural self-portrait Jug in the Form of a Head appears to reference Gauguin’s traumatic relationship with Vincent.
By 1890, Gauguin had conceived the project of making Tahiti his next artistic destination. A successful auction of paintings in Paris at the Hôtel Drouot in February 1891, along with other events such as a banquet and a benefit concert, provided the necessary funds.
Gauguin arrived in Papeete in June 1891. He lived in Tahiti from 1891 to 1893, and again from 1895 until his death. In Tahiti his painting style evolved to reflect the Pacific Islands’ primitive forms and brilliant
colors. His striking images of Polynesian women rank among the most beautiful paintings of the modern age. In 1904, Gauguin, dissipated by drug-addiction, died of a heart attack on Hiva Oa Island in the Marquesas in French Polynesia.
But in April 1894 he sailed back to the South Sea. He spent his last five years in great poverty and in bad health as the result of a venereal disease. His financial situation was depressing. In 1897 he tried to commit suicide. But he continued to paint until his death in 1903 on the Marquesas Islands.
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 Museumand the Hermitage. Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale, their prices reaching tens of millions of US dollars in the saleroom when they are offered. His 1892 Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) became the world’s third-most expensive artwork when its owner, the family of Rudolf Staechelin, sold it privately for US$210 million in September 2014. The buyer is believed to be the Qatar Museums.