Art is said to be the expression of the soul; however, quite often, one is unable to truly know the artist by his or her works alone. So is the case of the postimpressionist painter Paul Gauguin.while the paintings of Paul Gauguin do not reveal all of his life, the paintings are very much so a reflection of Gauguin’s views on life.
Eugene-Henri-Paul Gauguin was born on June 7, 1848 in Paris, France Compton’s Encyclopedia 1). When Napoleon destroyed France’s Second Republic, Gauguin’s father, Clovis, an anti-Bonaparte journalist, moved his family to Lima, Peru. On the way to Peru, Clovis died of a heart attack, leaving his wife to support two small children, Paul being the youngest (Harmon 2).
Although Paul went through childhood without a father figure, he adjusted quite well and grew to love Peru. He saw Peru as “a perfect place, exotic, racially diverse, filled with warm and loving people, colorful—a place that he yearned to experience again,” (Harmon 2). After four years in Peru, Gauguin’s mother moved the family back to France.While Paul was still a young boy when his family left for France, his childhood in Peru later reappeared in many of his paintings. The savageness that he adopted from the Spanish ancestry in Peru explained his view of life through a canvas and paint.
As Gauguin reached adulthood, he married Mette Sopie Gad, a Danish woman, and had four children with her. He settled down as a stockbroker in Paris. Aside from his work and family, Gauguin developed a fascination with Impressionist art and made it his hobby to collect paintings. This hobby soon spread as Gauguin began to paint as well.
While Gauguin often dreamed of becoming a full time painter, he clung to his job for the security of his family. When the 1882 stock market crashed, Gauguin saw his way out of the entrapment of his job and took up painting. Upon his change in career, his wife left for Denmark and took the children, leaving Gauguin alone.
The freedom Gauguin now had allowed him to concentrate on his paintings completely. His works never even sparked interest in Paris, a rejection that left Gauguin still unsatisfied and longing for his home in Peru. He desperately longed for his own paradise. Gauguin soon decided that Tahiti would be the place where he could capture the freedom of paradise that he remembered from Peru.
As Gauguin reached Tahiti he was terribly disappointed. Missionaries had forbidden a majority of the natural traditions and rituals of the Tahitians. Gauguin wrote to Mette, saying, “They are sweeping away…the poetry,”(Harmon 4). Nonetheless, Gauguin realized that the missionaries had failed to tame the savageness of the women. He took one of these females, a thirteen- year -old girl, as his wife. Teha’amana, or Tehura, as she was also known, brought great happiness to Gauguin’s life and bore a child. During this time in Tahiti, Gauguin produced such works as “The Moon and the Earth” and “The Spirit of the Dead Watching” which expressed the mystery and imaginative lives of these native people. Despite his happiness and success in Tahiti, Gauguin soon left Teha’amana and Tahiti behind in search of still something more (Cleaver, 299).
Back in France, Gauguin set up a studio in the hopes of promoting the sell of his paintings. He also took a new wife, a thirteen- year –old Javanese girl named Anna. While visiting Brittany with Anna, Gauguin was attacked by several locals over a fight in which the locals called Anna a witch. The attack caused Gauguin to break his ankle. While he was hospitalized, Anna vandalized his studio and was never seen again. To complicate matters for Gauguin, his ankle never completely healed and he was suffering from secondary syphilis (Harmon 5).
Rejection in France once again sent Gauguin back to Tahiti. Once he returned, he found that Teha’amana had found another husband and no longer wanted to associate with him. Gauguin soon took in fourteen-year-old Pahura in. His health was rapidly declining and he began to drink in heavy amounts. Gauguin’s paintings begin to turn dark and dreary.Pahura bore a child, which only made financial problems worse for the struggling artist. Then Gauguin received news that his daughter, Aline, had died of pneumonia. At the point of receiving this message, Gauguin gave up hope. “I have lost a daughter. I do not love God anymore,” Gauguin said (Harmon 5).He became suicidal and even set a date for his own death.
At his lowest point, a pregnant Pahura, then sixteen left him alone. He quickly packed his belongings and moved to Marquesas Island. Fourteen-year-old Marie-Rose Vaeoho, soon came to live with him and bore a child to him. Gauguin stayed in trouble with the French authorities and Marie-Rose left Gauguin as quickly as she had come. Despite his misfortune, Gauguin continued to paint.
Gauguin lived his final days on the remote Marquesas Islands (Cleaver 299). On May 8, 1903, Gauguin died alone of syphilis. He was fifty-five-years-old. When Gauguin died, he was very much in debt. Many of his possessions, including many of his paintings, were auctioned off for small sums of money used to pay on his debts.
Although Paul Gauguin never found the paradise of Peru that he searched for, he was able to capture Tahiti in his paintbrush. His paintings preserve the true nature of the Tahitian peoples and their way of life. His paintings stand as imagery of the South Pacific (Harmon 7).
Even though Gauguin wanted to find respect and acceptance in France, this would not happen during his lifetime. Critics at a major exhibition in Paris discovered Gauguin’s work three years after his death. Today he is recognized as the most audacious and perhaps most imaginative of all of the Post-impressionist painters (Harmon 7).
1.Cleaver, Dale G. Art: an Introduction, Fifth Edition. (299). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishing, 1989.
2.Compton’s Encyclopedia Online. “Paul Gauguin”. 3.0. (1998). Internet
October 31, 2000. www.comptons.com
3. Harmon, Melissa Burdick. “Tahiti: The Tropical Paradise that Seduced Painter Paul Gauguin”. Online. EBSCHOhost. October 31, 2000.