Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (Paris, June 7, 1848-Atuona, Marquesas Islands, May 8, 1903), known as Paul Gauguin, was a post-impressionist painter recognized after his death. His experimental use of color and his synthesist style were key elements in his distinction from Impressionism. His work was highly influential for the French avant-gardists and many other modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gauguin”s art became popular after his death, partially due to the efforts of art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who organized exhibitions of his work near the end of his career and posthumously in Paris. Many of his works were in the possession of Russian collector Sergei Shchukin, as well as in other important collections.
Gauguin was an important figure in symbolism, participating as a painter, writer and sculptor of prints and ceramics. It was his bold experimentation with color that laid the foundation for the synthesist style of modern art, while it was his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of cloisonnism, that paved the way for the advent of primitivism and a return to the pastoral style (capturing nature, landscapes). His work was also a great influence for the use of techniques such as wood engraving and woodcut in the realization of works of art. His work helped the evolution of painting, referring to German expressionism and fovism (movement that develops between 1898 and 1908).
He was the leader of the Pont-Aven School and the inspiration for the Nabis. He developed the most distinctive part of his production in the Caribbean (Martinique) and Oceania (French Polynesia), focusing mainly on landscapes and nudes, very bold for his time, for their rusticity and colorfulness, opposed to the bourgeois and aestheticist painting predominant at the time in Western culture. His work is considered among the most important French painters of the nineteenth century, and contributed decisively to the modern art of the twentieth century.
Van Gogh spoke about his Martinique paintings, saying:
Formidable! They were not painted with the brush, but with the phallus. Paintings that are, at the same time, art and sin. This is painting that comes from the entrails, from the blood, as sperm comes from sex.
Also read, history – Entente Cordiale
Gauguin was born in Paris, France. Son of the anti-monarchist journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the socialist and feminist Flora Tristan, whose father was part of an influential family in Peru. In 1850 the family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period (after Napoleon III”s coup d”état). His father Clovis died during the trip, leaving an 18-month-old Paul, his mother and sister to fend for themselves. They lived in Lima for four years with Paul”s uncle and his family. The images of Peru would end up being a great influence on Gauguin”s art. It was in Lima that Gauguin produced his first art. His mother admired pre-Columbian art, especially ceramics, as she collected Inca cookware that some colonizers considered barbaric. As a result of his fascination with ancient Peruvian cultures, Gauguin would come to use the image of a Peruvian mummy in more than twenty of his works.
Gauguin”s earliest memories were of how his mother wore the traditional dress of Lima, an eye peeping out from behind her manteau, the mysterious one-eyed veil worn by all the women of Lima. He was always attracted to women with a traditional style in sight. This must have been the first of many colorful dresses that would invade his imagination.
At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France, arriving in Orléans to live with his grandfather. The Gauguin family originally came from that area and were gardeners, merchants, growers and greengrocers: Gauguin means “nut grower”. His father broke with the family tradition by becoming a journalist in Paris. Gauguin soon learned French, but his main and preferred language remained Spanish.
Also read, important-events – Tehran Conference
Education and first job
After attending a couple of local schools, Gauguin was sent to the prestigious Catholic boarding school Petit Séminaire de La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin. He spent three years at that school. At the age of fourteen, he entered Loriol High School in Paris, a naval preparatory school, before returning to Orléans to take his final year at the Lyceé Jeanne D”Arc. Gauguin registered as an assistant pilot in the merchant navy. Three years later, he joined the French navy where he served for two years. His mother died on July 7, 1867, but he did not find out until several months later, when while in India he received a letter from his sister Marie.
In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he got a job as a stockbroker. His mother”s wealthy boyfriend, Gustave Arosa, gave him a job at the Paris Stock Exchange; this when Gauguin was 23 years old. He became a very successful Parisian businessman and remained so for the next 11 years. By 1879 he was earning 30,000 francs a year (about $125,000 in 2008 US dollars) as a stockbroker, and double that when he was involved in business in the art market. In 1882, the Paris Stock Exchange collapsed and the art market contracted. Gauguin”s earnings deteriorated severely, leading him to devote himself to painting full time.
Also read, biographies – Henri Matisse
In 1873, he married the Danish Mette-Sophie Gad (1850-1920). Over the next ten years they had five children: Émile (1874-1955), Aline (1877-1900), Clovis (1879-1900), Jean René (1881-1961) and Paul-Rollon (1883-1961). By 1884, Gauguin moved with his family to Copenhagen (Denmark), where he sought a career as a tent salesman. It was not a success: he could not speak Danish, and the Danes did not want French canvases. So Mette became the breadwinner, giving French lessons to apprentice diplomats.
His middle-class family and marriage fell apart after 11 years when Gauguin felt the urge to paint full-time. Gauguin returned to Paris in 1885, after Mette-Sophie and her family asked him to leave because he had renounced previously shared values. Gauguin”s last physical contact with them was in 1891. Mette finally formalized the separation in 1894.
Also read, biographies – Johannes Vermeer
In 1873, almost at the same time of his beginnings as a stockbroker, Gauguin began to paint in his spare time. His Parisian life was centered in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Gauguin lived at 15 rue Bruyère, and around the area were the cafés frequented by the Impressionists. Gauguin used to visit galleries and buy works by emerging artists. He formed a friendship with Pisarro and visited him on Sundays to paint in his garden. Pisarro introduced him to other artists. In 1877 Gauguin “moved near the market and across the river leading to the poor and recent urban extensions” of Vaugirard (XVth arrondissement of Paris). There, on the third floor of 8 rue Carcel, he had his first home with studio. His close friend Émile Schuffenecker, with a history similar to his own (a former stockbroker aspiring to become an artist) and Gauguin lived nearby. Gauguin showed paintings in the Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882 (previously his son Émile”s sculpture was for a time the only sculpture in the 4th Impressionist Exhibition of 1879). His paintings received disparaging reviews. Today works such as The Orchards of Vaugirard are highly valued.
In 1882, the stock market crashed and the art market contracted. Paul Durand-Ruel, the leading dealer in Impressionist art, was especially hard hit by the collapse and stopped buying paintings by artists, such as Gauguin. Gauguin”s earnings declined considerably and over the course of the next two years, he slowly formulated his plans to become a full-time artist. The next two summers he painted with Pisarro and occasionally with Paul Cézanne. In October 1883, Gauguin wrote to Pisarro saying that he had decided to make a living by painting “no matter what” and asked for his help in doing so, which, at first, Pisarro gladly accepted. The following January, Gauguin moved with his family to Rouen, where he thought, because of his summer stay with Pisarro, he could find important opportunities. However, the adventure proved unsuccessful and by the end of the year Mette returned to Copenhagen. Gauguin followed them in November 1884, taking with him his art collection that would remain in Copenhagen.
Also read, biographies – Rita Hayworth
Gauguin returned to Paris in June 1885, accompanied by his six-year-old son Clovis. The other children stayed with Mette in Copenhagen, where they had the support of family and friends, while Mette found work as a translator and French teacher. At first Gauguin found reintegration into the art world in Paris difficult and spent the first winter back suffering serious poverty, forced to take menial jobs. Eventually Clovis became ill and was sent to boarding school, Gauguin”s sister Marie provided the resources to get him there. During his first year he produced very little art. He exhibited 19 paintings and a wood relief at the eighth (and last) Impressionist exhibition in May 1886. Most of these paintings were old work done in Rouen or Copenhagen and, in general, there was nothing new, although his Baigneuses à Dieppe (Bathers at Dieppe) introduced what was to become a recurring theme, the woman in the waves. Félix Bracquemond bought one of his paintings. The exhibition established Georges Seurat as the leader of the avant-garde movement in Paris. Gauguin contemptuously rejected Seurat”s neo-Impressionist pointillist technique. Later that year, Gauguin parted ways with Pisarro, who was to become an antagonist to Gauguin.
Gauguin spent the summer of 1886 at the artists” colony Pont-Aven in Brittany. He was attracted to the idea because it was an inexpensive place to live. However, he found unexpected success living with the young art students who came for the summer. His pugilistic nature and temperament (he was a talented boxer and fencer) were no impediment to his living in that socially relaxed environment by the sea. Gauguin was remembered during this period as much for his flamboyant appearance as for his art. Among the new associates was Charles Laval, who accompanied Gauguin the following year to Panama and Martinique.
That summer he made some pastel drawings of nude figures similar to the method of Pisarro and Degas, exhibited at the eighth Impressionist exhibition in 1886. He mainly painted landscapes such as his work La Bergère Bretonne (“The Breton Shepherdess”), in which the figure plays a subordinate role. His Jeunes Bretons au bain (“Young Bretons bathing”), introducing a theme to which he returned each time he visited Pont-Aven, is clearly indebted to Degas in its design and bold use of pure color. The innocent drawings of the English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, which used to illustrate a popular guidebook in Brittany, had stolen the imagination of avant-garde art students in Pont-Aven, eager to break free from the conservatism of their academies, and Gauguin consciously imitated them in his sketches of Breton women. These sketches were later turned into paintings when he returned to his studio in Paris. The most important of these was the work Four Breton Women, which clearly marks the departure from his former Impressionist style as well as the incorporation of something close to the innocence of Caldecott”s illustration, exaggerating the features to the point of bordering on caricature.
Gauguin along with Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Émile Schuffenecker and many others, returned to Pont-Aven after their trips to Panama and Martinique. The bold use of pure color and the symbolist choice of subject matter are what distinguish what is known today as the Pont-Aven School. Disappointed with Impressionism, Gauguin felt that traditional European painting had become too repetitive and imitative and lacked symbolic breadth. In contrast, the art of Africa and Asia seemed to him to be full of mystical symbolism and vigor. There was a fashion in Europe during that time to appreciate the art of other cultures, specifically Japan (Japonisme). He was invited to participate in the exhibition dedicated to his work organized by Les XX in 1889.
Also read, biographies – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
Cloisonism and synthetism
Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin”s work evolved into Cloisonnism, a style named by the critic Édouard Dujardin in response to Émile Bernard”s method of painting with flat areas of color and raised borders, which reminded Dujardin of the medieval cloisonné technique of enameling. Gauguin greatly appreciated Bernard”s art and his boldness in employing a style that suited Gauguin in his quest to express the essence of objects in his art. Gauguin greatly appreciated Bernard”s art and also his boldness in employing a style that suited Gauguin in his quest to express the essence of objects in his art. In The Yellow Christ (1889), commonly noted as the quintessential Cloisonnist work, the image was reduced to areas of pure color separated by raised black borders. In such works Gauguin paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle color gradations, thereby dispensing with the two most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting. His painting later evolved into Synthetism in which neither form nor color predominates but each has an equal role.
Also read, biographies – Sextus Empiricus
In 1887, after visiting Panama, Gauguin spent several months near Saint Pierre in Martinique, accompanied by his artist friend Charles Laval. Paul Gauguin spent approximately 6 months on the island of Martinique from June to November 1887. His thoughts and experiences are compiled in his letters to his wife Mette and his artist friend Emile Schuffenecker. He arrived in Martinique by way of Panama where he found himself bankrupt and without work. At that time France had a right of return policy, which stated that if a citizen was bankrupt or stranded in a French colony, the state would pay for a return boat trip. Upon leaving Panama and being protected by this policy, Gauguin and Laval decided to get off the boat in Martinique”s St. Pierre harbor. Scholars debate whether it was intentional or spontaneous to decide to stay on the island. At first, the humble hut in which they lived was sufficient for them and he enjoyed watching people go about their routine activities. However, the weather in the summer was hot and the hut leaked when it rained. Gauguin also suffered from dysentery and malaria. During his stay in Martinique, he produced approximately 10 to 20 works (12 being the most common estimate), traveled widely and may have made contact with a community of Indian immigrants; a contact that would come to influence his art through the incorporation of Indian symbols. During his stay, the writer Lafcadio Hearn was also on the island, and his accounts are used as a historical comparison to accompany Gauguin”s images.
Gauguin completed 11 known paintings during his stay in Martinique, many of which appear to have been developed in his hut. His letters to Schuffenecker express excitement for the exotic location and the natives depicted in his paintings. Gauguin claimed that four of his paintings of the island were better than the rest. The works themselves were brightly colored, lightly painted, figure paintings of outdoor scenes. Although his time on the island was short, it is certain to have been a great influence. He recycled some of his figures and sketches in subsequent paintings, such as the theme in The Mango Harvest that is reproduced in his fan paintings. Rural and indigenous populations remained a popular subject in Gauguin”s works after he left the island.
Also read, history – Great Plague of Marseille
Gauguin and Van Gogh
Gauguin”s Martinique paintings were exhibited in the gallery of his art dealer Arsène Poitier. They were seen and admired by Vincent van Gogh and his own art dealer and brother Theo van Gogh, whose company Goupil & Cie did business with Poitier. Theo bought three of Gauguin”s paintings for 900 francs and arranged to have them hung in Goupil”s offices, thus introducing Gauguin to wealthy clients. At the same time Vincent and Gauguin became close friends (on Van Gogh”s part it was almost adulation) and worked together on art, a collaboration that was essential for Gauguin to formulate his philosophy of art. The arrangement with Goupil continued even after Theo”s death in January 1891.
But Gauguin”s relationship with Van Gogh became strained. In 1888, at Theo”s instigation, Gauguin and Vincent spent nine weeks painting together at Vincent”s Yellow House in Arles. Their relationship deteriorated rapidly and eventually Gauguin decided to leave. On the night of December 23, 1888 according to a future account by Gauguin, Van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor. Later that night, Van Gogh cut off his left ear. He wrapped the severed appendage in a sheet of newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to “guard it carefully.” Van Gogh was hospitalized the next day and Gauguin left Arles. They never saw each other again, but they continued to correspond and in 1890 Gauguin even went so far as to ask him to form an art studio together in Antwerp. A sculpted self-portrait from early 1889, the Head-shaped Pitcher, seems to refer to Gauguin and Van Gogh”s traumatic separation. According to German scholars Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans in a BBC report published in 2009, Van Gogh did not cut off his ear, but part of his left lobe. Nor did he cut it himself, but it was cut off by Gauguin with a sword during a quarrel.
Gauguin later claimed to have been a major influence on Van Gogh”s development as a painter in Arles. Although Van Gogh did experiment a little with Gauguin”s theory of painting from the imagination, present in some paintings of the time such as Memory of the Garden at Etten, this did not suit him and he quickly returned to painting from nature.
Also read, biographies – Gregory Peck
Gauguin and Degas
Although Gauguin achieved his first breakthroughs in the art world under the style of Pisarro, Edgar Degas was his most admired contemporary artist and was a great influence on his works from the beginning, with his figures and interiors as well as his engravings and the painted medallion of Valérie Roumi. He had great respect for Degas” artistic tact and dignity. It was Gauguin”s longest and healthiest friendship, lasting throughout his artistic career until his death.
In addition to being an early supporter, including buying Gauguin”s works and persuading dealer Paul Durand-Ruel to do the same, there was never such strong public support for Gauguin as that of Degas. Gauguin also bought works by Degas in the early 1870s and his own predilection in recording for the monotype was probably influenced by Degas”s advances in that medium. Durand-Ruel presented an exhibition to Gauguin in November 1893, which Degas mainly organized, and received mixed reviews. Some of those who scoffed were Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and his former friend Pisarro. However, Degas praised his work, buying the work Te faaturuma (The Melancholy) and admiring the exotic sumptuousness of Gauguin”s conjured folklore. As thanks, Gauguin gave Degas the work The Moon and the Earth, one of the paintings exhibited that attracted the most hostile criticism. The last version of Gauguin”s Horsemen on the Beach (two versions) is a memento of Degas” horse images, beginning in the 1860s, specifically the work Hippodrome and Before the Race, being a testament to its lasting effect on Gauguin. Degas later purchases two paintings by Gauguin at an 1895 auction to raise funds for his final trip to Tahiti. They were Woman with Mango and Gauguin”s copy of Manet”s Olympia.
Also read, biographies – Democritus
First visit to Tahiti
By 1890, Gauguin had already considered 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 charity concert, provided him with the necessary funds. The success of the auction was aided by a favorable review by Octave Mirbeau, who was convinced by Gauguin through Pisarro. After visiting his family in Copenhagen for what would be the last time, Gauguin set out for Tahiti on April 1, 1891, vowing to return a wealthy man and to be able to start anew. His stated intention was to escape European civilization and “all that is artificial and conventional.” However, he took it upon himself to bring with him a collection of visual stimuli in the form of photographs, drawings and prints.
He spent the first three months in Papeete, the capital of the already highly Europeanized colony. His biographer Belinda Thomson observes that he must have been disappointed in his vision of a primitive idyll. He was unable to afford the life of pleasure he wanted in Papeete and an early attempt at a portrait, Suzanne Bambridge, was not well liked. He decided to set up his studio in Mataiea, Papeari, some 45 km from Papeete, settling in a native-style bamboo hut. Here he produced paintings depicting life in Tahiti such as Near the Sea and Ave Maria, the latter of which would become his most valued Tahiti painting.
Many of his most beautiful paintings date from this period. His first portrait of a Tahitian model is believed to be Woman with Flower. The painting is notable for its careful delineation of Polynesian features. He sent the painting to his patron Gerge-Daniel de Monfreid, a friend of Schuffenecker”s who would become Gauguin”s greatest Tahitian devotee, and by late summer 1892 it was hanging in Goupil”s gallery in Paris. Art historian Nancy Mowll Mathews believes that his encounter with the exotic sensuality of Tahiti, so evident in his paintings, was by far the most important aspect of his stay.
Gauguin was provided with the books Voyage aux îles du Grand Océan by Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout of 1837, and État de la société tahitienne à l”arrivée des Européens by Edmond de Bovis of 1855, both of which contained detailed accounts of Tahiti”s forgotten culture and religion. He was fascinated by the accounts of the Arioi society and their god ”Oro. Because the stories contained no illustrations, with Tahitian models possibly long gone, he indulged in a free exercise of his imagination and executed about 20 paintings and a dozen woodcuts over the course of the next year. The first of these was The Seed of Areoi, depicting the earthly wife of ”Oro named Vairaumati, a work now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. His illustrated booklet Ancien Culte Mahorie is preserved in the Louvre and was published as a facsimile in 1951.
Altogether, Gauguin sent nine of his paintings to Monfreid in Paris. They were eventually shown in Copenhagen in an exhibition along with works by the late Van Gogh. Reports that they had been well received (although only two of the Tahitian paintings were actually sold, and his early paintings compared unfavorably with Van Gogh”s) were enough to encourage him to contemplate returning with seventy others he had completed. He had already exhausted his funds anyway, so he was dependent on financial assistance from the state to get a free passage home. He had also suffered health problems diagnosed as heart problems by the local doctor, who suggested that they may have been early signs of cardiovascular syphilis.
Gauguin wrote a travel diary (published in 1901) entitled Noa Noa, originally considered to be a commentary on his paintings and descriptions of his experiences in Tahiti. Modern critics suggest that the content of the book was part fantasy and plagiarism. Modern critics suggest that the content of the book was partly fantasy and plagiarism. In it, Gauguin revealed that at the time he had taken a thirteen-year-old girl as a native wife or vahine (Tahitian word for woman), a marriage consecrated in the course of one afternoon. Her name was Teha”amana, but he called her Tehura in the travelogue and she turned out to be pregnant by the end of the summer of 1892. Teha”amana was the subject of several of his paintings, including the portrait Merahi metua no Tehamana (The Ancestors of Tehamana) and the renowned The Spirit of the Dead Candle, as well as the famous woodcut Tehura now in the Musée d”Orsay.
Also read, biographies – James Cook
Return to France
In August 1893, Gauguin returned to France where he continued to execute paintings with Tahitian themes such as Day of the God and Sacred Spring, Sweet Dreams. An exhibition at the Durand-Ruel gallery in November 1894 was a moderate success, selling at high prices eleven of his forty paintings exhibited. He secured an apartment at 6 rue Vercingétorix on the edge of the Montparnasse district that was frequented by artists, and thus began to organize weekly literary salons. He presented himself as an exotic person, wearing Polynesian garments, and had a public affair with a young woman still in her teenage years, “half Indian, half Malay”, known as “Annah the Javanese”.
Despite the moderate success of his November exhibition, he went on to lose Durand-Ruel”s patronage due to circumstances that are unclear. Mathews characterizes this as a tragedy for Gauguin”s career, among other things he lost the opportunity to enter the American market. Among other things, he lost the opportunity to break into the American market. In early 1894 he was preparing woodcuts using an experimental technique drawing themes from his travelogue Noa Noa. He returned to Pont-Aven for the summer. The following year he tried to organize an auction of his paintings in Paris, similar to that of 1891, but it was not a success. The dealer Ambroise Vollard, however, showed his paintings in his gallery in March 1895, but unfortunately they did not reach an agreement at that time.
He sent a large ceramic sculpture he called Oviri, which he had taken to the salon of the National Society of Fine Arts the previous winter in April 1895. There are conflicting accounts of how it was received: his biographer and collaborator in Noa Noa and the Symbolist poet Charles Morice maintained (1920) that his work was “literally thrown out of the exhibition,” while Vollard said (1937) that the work was admitted only when Chaplet threatened to withdraw all his work as well. In any case, Gauguin took the opportunity to increase his exposure to the public by writing a letter, outraged at the current state of modern ceramics, to Le Soir.
By this time it had become clear that he and his wife Mette were definitely separated. Although there was hope for a reconciliation, they were quick to argue over financial matters and neither visited the other. Gauguin initially refused to share his bequest of 13,000 francs that his uncle Isidore had bequeathed to him shortly after his return. Mette was eventually granted 1,500 francs, but outraged by this she set out to communicate with him only through Schuffenecker, so that he could inform even his friends of his betrayal and be humiliated.
Also read, biographies – Caligula
Residence in Tahiti
Gauguin traveled again to Tahiti on June 28, 1895. His return is characterized by Thomson as negative, his disillusionment with the art scene in Paris marked by two attacks on him in the same issue of Mercure de France; one by Émile Bernard and the other by Camille Mauclair. Mathews stresses that his isolation in Paris became so bitter that he had no choice but to return to his place in society in Tahiti.
He arrived in September 1895 and would spend the next six years living, it seems, a comfortable life as a settler artist near, or sometimes in, Papeete. During this time he was able to survive on his own through an increasing and steady streak of sales, along with the support of friends and sympathizers, although there was a period between 1898 and 1899 when he felt the need to get desk work in Papeete, of which there are not many records. He built a shack in Punaauia in an area ten miles east of Papeete, settled with affluence by wealthy families, in which he set up a large studio, sparing no expense. Jules Agostini, an acquaintance of Gauguin”s and a successful amateur photographer, photographed the house in 1896. A land sale some time later forced him to build a new one in the same neighborhood.
He maintained possession of a horse and carriage, so that he could travel to Papeete to participate in the social life of the colony whenever he wished. He subscribed to the Mercure de France (he became a shareholder), by then the leading French newspaper of criticism, and maintained an active correspondence with fellow artists, merchants, critics and patrons in Paris. During this year in Papeete and thereafter, he played an increasing role in local politics, contributing to the local newspaper that opposed the colonial government, Les Guêpes (The Wasps), which had recently been formed, and which eventually edited its own monthly publication called La Sonrisa: A Serious Newspaper, later titled An Infamous Newspaper. A certain amount of art material and wood cuts from his paper survived. In February 1900 he became the editor of Las Avispas, for which he received a salary and continued as editor until his departure from Tahiti in September 1901. The paper under his editorship was noted for its scurrilous attacks on the governor and the bureaucracy in general, but he was not a leader sympathetic to native causes, although he was perceived as such anyway.
At least for the first year he did not produce paintings, informing Monfreid that he would concentrate on sculpture. Very few of his woodcuts from this period survived, most were collected by Monfreid. Thomson states that Christ on the Cross, a half-meter high wooden cylinder, presented a curious mixture of religious subjects. The cylinder may have been inspired by similar engravings in Brittany, such as at Pleumeur-Bodou, where works were Christianized by local craftsmen. When he returned to painting, it was to continue his long series of sexually charged nudes in paintings such as Son of God or Nevermore. Thomson notes a progression in complexity. Mathews notes a return to Christian symbolism, which would have made him popular with the colonialists of the time, but at the time anxious to preserve what remained of native culture by highlighting the universality of religious principles. In these paintings, Gauguin was addressing the audience of his fellow colonialists in Papeete, not his earlier avant-garde audience in Paris.
He suffered health problems and was hospitalized several times for a variety of ailments. While in France, he broke his heel in a drunken brawl on a visit to Concarneau. The injury, an open fracture, never healed properly. From then on he suffered from sores that appeared on his legs and restricted his movement. He treated them with arsenic. Gauguin blamed the tropical climate and described the sores as “eczema,” but his biographers agree that this was a consequence of the progression of syphilis.
In April 1897 he received news that his favorite daughter Aline had tragically died of pneumonia. This was also the month he learned that he had to leave his home because the land had been sold. He borrowed money from the bank to build a more extravagant wooden house with beautiful views of the sea and mountains. But he overextended himself and by the end of the year he faced the possibility that the bank would evict him. In poor health and in debt, he reached the brink of despair. At the end of the year he completed his great work Where did we come from, who are we, where are we going, which was recognized as his masterpiece, which was recognized as his masterpiece and his last artistic testament (in a letter to Monfreid he explained that he attempted suicide upon its completion). The painting was exhibited at Vollard”s gallery in November of the following year, along with eight other paintings with similar themes that he had completed in July. This was the first major exhibition in Paris since the one with Durand-Ruel in 1893 and was a great success, receiving praise for his new serenity from the critics. Where did we come from, however, received mixed reviews and Vollard had trouble selling it. He finally succeeded in 1901 for 2,500 francs (about US$10,000 in 2000 dollars), to Gabriel Frizeau, a sale for which Vollard possibly received a commission of 500 francs.
Georges Chaudet, Gauguin”s dealer in Paris, died in the fall of 1899. Vollard had been buying Gauguin”s paintings through Chaudet and then made an agreement with Gauguin directly. The agreement gave Gauguin a monthly advance of 300 francs in exchange for the guaranteed purchase of at least 25 of his never-before-seen paintings a year for 200 francs each, and in addition Vollard proposed to supply him with art materials. There were some teething problems for both parties, but Gauguin was at last able to achieve his lifelong dream of living again in the Marquesas Islands in search of an even more primitive society. He spent his last months in Tahiti living in comfort, proof of which was the freedom with which he spent his time entertaining friends.
Gauguin was not able to continue his ceramic work in the islands for the simple reason that the required clay was not available. Likewise, without access to a printing press and a hectograph, he had to revert to the monotype process in his graphic work. Some surviving examples of these prints are rare and expensive for sale.
Gauguin”s wife (vahine) during this period was Pahura (Pau”ura) a Tai, daughter of some neighbors in Punaauia and 14 years old when he took her as his wife. She bore him two children, of whom one daughter died in infancy. The other, a boy, she raised alone. Her descendants were still living in Tahiti at the time Mathews” biography was written. Paa”ura refused to accompany Gauguin to the Marquesas and to be away from her family in Punaauia (she had previously abandoned him when he went to work in Papeete, only 16 km away). When the English author Willam Somerset Maugham visited her in 1917, she could not give him a useful memory of Gauguin and even reprimanded him for not having brought money from Gauguin”s French family.
Gauguin had planned to live in the Marquesas ever since he saw a collection of engraved Marquesan bowls and weapons when he was in Papeete in the first months of his visit to Tahiti. However, he found a society that, like Tahiti, had lost its cultural identity. Of all the Pacific island groups, the Marquesas were the most affected by the importation of Western diseases (especially tuberculosis). The population of about 80 000 in the 18th century had been reduced to about 4 000. Catholic missionaries imposed themselves, and in their effort to control alcoholism and promiscuity, forced the native children to attend missionary schools until adolescence. French colonial rule was enforced by the gendarmerie, notorious for their malevolence and stupidity, while traders from both the West and China exploited the natives terribly.
Gauguin settled in Atuona on the island of Hiva-Oa, arriving on September 16, 1901. This was the administrative capital of the island group, but was considerably less developed than Papeete, although there was an efficient and frequent steamboat system for travel between the two. There was a military doctor, but no hospital. The doctor moved to Papeete the following February and, from then on, had to rely on the two health workers on the island, Vietnamese adventurer Nguyen Van Cam (Ky Dong), who had settled on the island but had no formal medical training, and Protestant pastor Paul Vernier, who had studied medicine as well as theology. The two would become good friends.
Gauguin bought land in the center of the Catholic mission village, having first won over the local bishop by attending mass regularly. This bishop was Monsignor Joseph Martin, initially pleased with Gauguin because he knew that he had allied himself with Catholicism in Tahiti in his journalism.
Gauguin built on his land, a house solid enough to survive a cyclone, which wiped out most of the other houses in the village. He was helped in the task by the two best carpenters on the island, one of them named Tioka, tattooed from head to toe in the traditional manner of the Marquesas (a tradition interrupted by the missionaries). Tioka was a deacon in Vernier”s congregation and became Gauguin”s neighbor after the cyclone when Gauguin gave him a corner of his land. The first floor was open-air and used only for eating and as a living room, while the upper floor was used for sleeping and as a studio. The door to the upper floor was decorated with a carved wooden lintel and jambs that would later survive in museums. The lintel named the house “Maison du Jouir” (House of Pleasure), while the jambs resembled his earlier 1889 work with wood carving called Soyez amoureuses vous serez heureuses (Fall in love, you will be happy). The walls decorated with, among other things, his much-loved collection of 45 pornographic photographs he bought in Port Said when he left France. At least in the early days, until Gauguin found a vahine (wife), the house attracted crowds of natives in the evenings who came to appreciate it, came to look at the pictures and party the night away. Needless to say, this did not please the bishop, even less so when Gauguin placed two sculptures at the foot of the steps satirizing the bishop and his maid (supposedly his mistress), and even less so when Gauguin attacked the unpopular missionary school system.
State funding of the missionary schools ceased as a result of the new 1901 Law of Associations enacted by the French Empire. The schools continued as private institutions but with difficulties, although these were compounded when Gauguin declared that attendance at any school was only compulsory within a catchment area with a radius of about two to two and a half miles. This led to several teenage daughters being removed from the schools (Gauguin called the process “rescue”). He took one of these girls as a vahine, named Vaeoho (also Marie-Rose), the fourteen-year-old daughter of a native couple living in a nearby valley (10 km). This could not have been very pleasant for her, due to the grotesqueness and noxiousness of Gauguin”s sores at the time, which required daily bandage changes. Nevertheless, she lived with him voluntarily and the following year gave birth to a healthy daughter, whose descendants continue to live on the island.
By November she had settled into her new house with Vaeoho, a cook (Kahui), two other servants (Tioka”s nephews), her dog Pegau (a use of her initials PG), and a cat. The house itself, although in the center of the village, was in the middle of trees and secluded from view. The festivities ended and a period of productive work began, managing to send 20 canvases to Vollard the following April. He thought he would find new subjects in the Marquesas, expressing this in a letter to Monfreid.
I believe that in the Marquesas, where it is easy to find models (something more and more difficult in Tahiti), and with new landscapes to explore – with new and better wild subjects – I will be able to achieve beautiful things. Here my imagination has cooled down, and also the public is already used to Tahiti. The world is so stupid that if one shows it new canvases with terrible elements, Tahiti would become understandable and charming. My pictures of Brittany are now rose water thanks to Tahiti; Tahiti will be perfume thanks to the Marquesas. (Letter LII to George Daniel de Monfreid, June 1901).
Indeed, for the most part, her Marquesas work can be distinguished from her Tahitian work only by experts or by their dates; paintings such as Two Women remain of uncertain origin. For Anna Szech, what distinguishes them is their repose and melancholy, although they contain elements of unease. Thus, in the second version of Riders on the Beach, which shows clouds and frothy figures, they suggest a storm is coming, while the distant figures on horseback are similar to other similar figures in other paintings that symbolized death.
Gauguin chose to paint landscapes, still lifes and figure studies at this time, always with attention to Vollard”s clientele, thus avoiding the primitive themes and lost paradises of his Tahitian paintings. But there are a significant trio of paintings from his past period that suggest deeper concerns. The first two are Jeune fille à l”éventail (Girl with Fan) and Le Sorcier d”Hiva Oa (Marquesas Man in Red Cloak). The model for Girl with Fan was the red-haired Tohotaua, the daughter of a chieftain on the neighboring island. The portrait seems to have been taken from a photograph that Vernier sent to Vollard. The model for the second painting may have been Haapuani, a successful dancer as well as a feared sorceress, who was a friend of Gauguin and, according to Danielsson, was married to Tohotaua. Szech notes that the white color of Tototaua”s dress is a symbol of power and death in Polynesian culture. Le Sorcier appears to have been done at the same time and shows a long-haired woman wearing an exotic red cape. The androgynous nature of the image attracted attention, confirming speculation that Gauguin intended to depict a person with a third gender. The third painting is the mysterious and beautiful Contes barbares (Primitive Tales) showing Tohotaua again on the right. The figure on the left is Jacob Meyer de Haan, a painter friend of Gauguin”s from the Pont-Aven days who died years earlier, while the figure in the middle is again androgynous, identified by some as Haapuani. The pose imitating Buddha and the blooming lotus suggests to Elizabeth Childs that the image is a meditation on the perpetual cycle of life and the possibility of rebirth. As these paintings came to Vollard after Gauguin”s sudden death, nothing is known about his intentions in executing them.
In March 1902, the governor of French Polynesia, Édouard Petit, arrived in the Marquesas for an inspection. He was accompanied by Édouard Charlier as head of the judicial system. Charlier was an amateur painter who was a friend of Gauguin”s when he became a magistrate in Papeete in 1895. However, their relationship became one of enmity when Charlier refused to prosecute Gauguin”s then vahine, Pau”ura, for a number of trivial offenses, such as alleged breaking and entering and theft, which she committed in Punaauia while Gauguin was working in Papeete. Gauguin went so far as to publish an open letter to Charlier about the affair in Les Guêpes. Petit, allegedly warned in advance, refused to see Gauguin for the delivery of the villagers” protests (Gauguin was their spokesman) about the unfair tax system, which saw his greatest gain from the expenses in Papeete. Gauguin responded in April by refusing to pay his taxes and encouraging villagers, merchants and farmers to do the same.
Around this time, Gauguin”s health began to deteriorate again, as he felt the same symptoms such as pain in his legs, heart palpitations and general weakness. The pain in his ankle became unbearable and in July he was forced to order a carriage from Papeete in order to get around town. By September the pain was so extreme that he had to use morphine injections. However, he became concerned about his new habit of lending his syringe set to his neighbor, so he switched to laudanum. His eyesight was beginning to fail him, as evidenced by the glasses he wore in his last self-portrait. In fact such a portrait was begun by his friend Ky Dong and later finished by Gauguin himself, thus explaining the uncharacteristic style seen in it. It shows an old and tired man, but not yet defeated. For a time he considered returning to Europe, to Spain, for treatment. Monfreid advised him.
By returning, you risk damaging that incubation process of public appreciation of you, which is in action at this moment. Now you are a legendary and unique artist, sending us bewildering and inimitable works from the remote seas of being, which are the definitive creations of a great man who, in a way, has already left this world. Your enemies – and like all who annoy the mediocre you have many enemies – are silent; but they dare not attack you, nor even think of it. You are far away. You should not return… You are already as impregnable as all the great dead; you already belong to the “history of art.”-George Daniel Monfreid, Letter to Paul Gauguin around October 1902.
In July 1902, Vaeoho, by then seven months pregnant, left Gauguin to return home to the Hekeani Valley to have her baby among family and friends. She gave birth the following September, but did not return. Gauguin never took another vahine. It was at this time that his quarrel with Bishop Martin over the missionary schools reached its peak. The local gendarme Désiré Charpillet, at first friendly to Gauguin, wrote a report to the administrator of the island group, who resided on the neighboring island of Nuku Hiva, in which he criticized Gauguin for encouraging the natives to withdraw their children from school as well as encouraging the villagers not to pay their taxes. Fortunately the post of administrator had recently been filled by François Picquenot, an old friend of Gauguin”s from Tahiti and essentially sympathetic to him. Picquenot advised Charpillet to do nothing about the school problem, since Gauguin had the law on his side, but he did authorize Charpillet to seize Gauguin”s property as payment for the taxes if it all came to the worst. Possibly because of his loneliness, and sometimes his inability to paint, Gauguin turned to writing.
In 1901, the manuscript of Noa Noa that Gauguin prepared along with his wood engravings during the period in France, was finally published with Morice”s poems in book format in the La Plume edition (the manuscript itself is now in the Louvre museum). Some sections (including his account of Teha”amana) had been published earlier but without the engravings in 1897 in La Revue Blanche, while Gauguin himself published excerpts in Les Guêpes while he was an editor. The La Plume edition was planned to include the etchings, but he withdrew his permission to print them on plain paper as the publishers wanted. He had actually lost interest in the affair with Morice and never saw a copy, refusing an offer of one hundred complimentary copies. However, its publication inspired him to consider writing other books. Earlier in the year (1902), he revised an old manuscript of 1896-97 called L”Esprit Moderne et le Catholicisme (The Modern Spirit and Catholicism) about the Catholic Church, adding some twenty pages containing accounts of his dealings with Bishop Martin. He sent this text to Bishop Martin, who responded by sending him an illustrated history of the Church. Gauguin returned the book with critical remarks, which he later published in his autobiographical memoirs. He then prepared a witty and well-documented essay called Racontars de Rapin (Tales of an Amateur) about critics and criticism of art, which he sent for publication to André Fontainas, an art critic at the Mercure de France who had a favorable review for Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? which did enough to restore his reputation. Fontainas, however, replied that he would not dare to publish it. It would not be published until 1951.
On May 27 of that year, the steamboat service Croix du Sud suffered an accident near Apataki and for a period of three months the island had no mail or supplies. When the mail service returned, Gauguin attacked Governor Petit in a letter, complaining among other things about the way they were abandoned after the wreck. The letter was published by L”Indepéndant, the successor newspaper to Les Guêpes, that November in Papeete. Petit had in fact pursued an independent and pro-native policy, to the disappointment of the Catholic party, and the paper was preparing to attack him. Gauguin also sent the letter to the Mercure de France, which published a redacted version of it after his death. He followed up with a private letter to the head of the gendarmerie in Papeete, complaining that his local gendarme Charpillet went too far in making his prisoners work for him. Danielsson explains that, while these and similar complaints were substantiated, the motivation for them was hurt vanity and pure animosity. It so happened that Charpillet was replaced that December by another gendarme named Jean-Paul Claverie from Tahiti, less friendly to Gauguin because he had in fact fined him during his stay in Mataiea for finding him bathing naked in a local river.
His health deteriorated further in December to the point that he was barely able to paint. She began an autobiographical memoir she called Before and After (published in translation in the U.S. as Intimate Journals), which she completed over the course of two months. The title was meant to reflect her experiences before and after her arrival in Tahiti and as a tribute to her grandmother”s unpublished memoir Past and Future. Her memoirs were a fragmentary collection of observations of life in Polynesia, her own life, and comments on literature and painting. He included in them themes of attacks on the local gendarmerie, Bishop Martin, his wife Mette and the Danes in general, and ended it with a description of his personal philosophy conceiving life as an existential struggle to unite polar opposites. Mathews points out two concluding remarks to his philosophy:
No one is good; no one is evil; everyone is both, in the same way and in different ways…It is so small, the life of one man, and yet there is time to accomplish great things, fragments of the common task.
He sent the manuscript to Fontainas for editing, but the rights passed to Mette upon Gauguin”s death and it was not until 1918 that it was published, with an English translation in 1921.
At the beginning of 1903, Gauguin became involved with a campaign to expose the incompetence of the island”s gendarme, Jean-paul Claveria, by taking the side of the natives directly in a case involving the alleged drunkenness of a group of them. However, Claverie escaped censure. In early February, Gauguin wrote to the administrator Picquenot, alleging corruption on the part of one of Claverie”s subordinates. Picquenot investigated the allegations but was unable to prove them. Claverie responded by charging Gauguin with defamation, who was fined 500 francs and sentenced to three months in prison by the local magistrate on March 27, 1903. Gauguin immediately appealed in Papeete and set out to raise the funds to travel to Papeete to attend his appeal. However, he died unexpectedly on the morning of May 8, 1903, of a suspected heart attack before he could hear the outcome of his appeal. He was buried the following day in the local Catholic cemetery.
Also read, biographies – Diego Rivera
Gauguin spent the weeks after being convicted of defamation of the gendarme, preparing his appeal. In this period he was very weak and in great pain. He resorted again to morphine. He died suddenly on the morning of May 8, 1903. He had previously summoned his pastor Paul Vernier, as he had been suffering from fainting spells. They talked together for a while and Vernier left, considering he was in good condition. However, Gauguin”s neighbor Tioka found him dead at 11 a.m., confirming the fact by practicing a Marquesas tradition of biting someone”s head off in an attempt to revive him. At his bedside was a bottle of laudanum, which has led to speculation that he was the victim of an overdose. Vernier believed he died of a heart attack.
Gauguin was buried in Clavary Catholic Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), in Atuona, Hiva ”Oa, at 2 p.m. the next day. In 1973, a bronze statue of his work Oviri was placed on his grave, as he indicated as a wish. Ironically his nearest neighbor in the cemetery is Bishop Martin, with a large white cross on his grave. Vernier wrote an account of Gauguin”s last days and burial, reproduced in the O”Brien edition of Gauguin”s letters to Monfreid.
News of Gauguin”s death did not reach France (Monfreid) until August 23, 1903. In the absence of a will, his less valuable possessions were auctioned in Atuona, while his letters, manuscripts and paintings were auctioned in Papeete on September 5, 1903. Mathews points out that this rapid dispersal of his possessions led to the loss of much valuable information about his last years. Thomson points out that the auction inventory of his possessions (some were considered pornography) revealed a life that was not as impoverished or primitive as he would have liked to maintain. In due course Mette Gauguin received the proceeds of the auction, some 4,000 francs. One of the paintings auctioned at Papeete was Maternity II, a smaller version of Maternity I which is in the Hermitage Museum. The original was painted during the period when her vahine was Pau”ura in Punaauia, when she gives birth to her son Emile. It is not known why she painted the smaller copy. It was sold for 150 francs to a French naval officer, Commandant Cochin, who said that Governor Petit had offered as much as 135 francs for the painting. It was sold at Sotheby”s for US $39,208,000 in 2004.
The Paul Gauguin Cultural Center in Atuona has a reconstruction of Maison du Jouir. The original house remained empty for a few years, with the door still bearing the lintel carved by Gauguin. This was eventually recovered, four of the five pieces are displayed at the Musée d”Orsay and the fifth at the Paul Gauguin Museum in Tahiti.
In 2014, forensic examination of four teeth found in a glass vase in a well near Gauguin”s house led to questioning the usual belief that Gauguin suffered from syphilis. DNA testing established that the teeth were most likely Gauguin”s, but there were no traces of mercury (which was used to treat syphilis at the time), thus suggesting that Gauguin either did not suffer from syphilis or was not treated for it.
Also read, important-events – Vienna Conference
Gauguin outlived three of his children; his favorite daughter Aline who died of pneumonia, his son Clovis who died of a blood infection after a hip operation, and a daughter who had her birth portrayed in an 1896 Gauguin painting called Te tamari no atua (The Birth of Christ), and who was the daughter of Gauguin”s young Tahitian lover Pau”ura, who died only a few days after her birth on Christmas 1896. She died only a few days after his birth on Christmas 1896. His son Émile Gauguin worked as a civil engineer in the U.S. and was buried in Lemon Bay Cemetery in Florida. Another son, Jean René, became a renowned sculptor and staunch socialist. He died on April 21, 1961 in Copenhagen. Pola (Paul Rollon) became an artist and art critic and wrote a memoir, My Father, Paul Gauguin (1937). Gauguin had many other children by his mistresses: Germaine (and a daughter (b. 1902) with Mari-Rose. There is speculation that the Belgian artist Germaine Chardon was Gauguin”s daughter. Emile Marae a Tai, illiterate and raised in Tahiti by Pau”ura, was brought to Chicago in 1963 by French journalist Josette Giraud and was an artist in her own right, her descendants still living in Tahiti as of 2001.
Primitivism was an artistic movement in painting and sculpture in the late 19th century, characterized by exaggerated body proportions, animal totems, geometric designs and stark contrasts. The first artist to systematically use these effects and achieve widespread public success was Paul Gauguin. The European cultural elite, discovering for the first time the art of Africa, Micronesia and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, were fascinated, intrigued and educated by the novel, savage and raw power embodied in the art of these faraway places. Like Pablo Picasso in the early days of the 20th century, Gauguin was inspired and motivated by the sheer power and simplicity of the so-called primitive art of these foreign cultures.
Gauguin is also considered a post-impressionist painter. His bold, colorful and design-focused paintings significantly influenced Modern Art. Artists and movements of the early 20th century inspired by him include Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain, Fovism, Cubism and Orphism, among others. He later influenced Arthur Frank Mathews and the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
John Rewald, recognized as the leading authority on late 19th-century art, wrote a series of books about the Post-Impressionist period, including Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin (1956) and an essay, Paul Gauguin: Letters to Ambroise Vollard and André Fontainas (included in Rewald”s Study of Post-Impressionism, 1986), in which he discusses Gauguin”s years in Tahiti and the struggle for his survival, as seen through correspondence with art dealer Vollard and others.
Posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the Salon d”Automne in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a powerful and surprising influence on the French avant-garde and in particular the paintings of Pablo Picasso. In the fall of 1906, Picasso made paintings of large nude women, as well as monumental and sculptural figures that recalled the work of Gauguin and showed his interest in primitive art. Picasso”s paintings of massive figures in 1906 were directly influenced by Gauguin”s sculpture, painting and writing. The power evoked by Gauguin”s work led directly to Les Demoiselles d”Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) in 1907.
According to David Sweetman, Gauguin”s biographer, Picasso became a fan of Gauguin”s work as early as 1902 when he met and befriended the Spanish sculptor and ceramist Paco Durrio (1875-1940) in Paris. Durrio had possession of several of Gauguin”s works because he was a friend of Gauguin”s and an unpaid agent of his work. Durrio tried to help his friend in poverty-stricken Tahiti by promoting his work in Paris. After they met, Durrio introduced Picasso to Gauguin”s stone work, helped Picasso make ceramic pieces, and gave Picasso a first edition of La Plume de Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin. In addition to seeing Gauguin”s work with Durrio, Picasso also saw it at Ambroise Vollard”s gallery where both he and Gauguin were represented.
On Gauguin”s impact on Picasso, John Richardson wrote,
The 1906 exhibition of Gauguin”s work left Picasso a slave to his art more than ever. Gauguin demonstrated that the most disparate types of art–not to mention elements of metaphysics, ethnology, symbolism, the Bible, classical myths and many others besides–could be combined in a synthesis that was of their times but still timeless. An artist could also confound conventional notions of beauty, he proved that it is possible, by tapping into his demons and taking them to the dark gods (not necessarily those of Tahiti) and tapping into a new source of divine energy. If in future years Picasso paid his debt to Gauguin, it was certainly between 1905 and 1907 that he felt a close kinship with this other Paul, who prided himself on Spanish genes inherited from his Peruvian grandmother. If Picasso had not signed himself as “Paul” in honor of Gauguin.
Both David Sweetman and John Richardson point out that Gauguin”s sculpture Oviri (meaning savage), the phallic and gruesome figure of the Tahitian goddess of life and death that was intended for Gauguin”s tomb and was shown in the 1906 retrospective exhibition, was even more directly what led to Les Demoiselles. Sweetman writes, “Gauguin”s statue Oviri, which was shown in 1906, came to stimulate Picasso”s interest in sculpture and ceramics, while the woodcuts reinforced his interest in prints, although it was the element of the primitive in all of these that most conditioned the direction Picasso”s art would take. This interest would culminate in the seminal Les Demoiselles d”Avignon.”
According to Richardson,
Picasso”s interest in stoneware was further stimulated by the examples he saw at the 1906 Gauguin retrospective at the Salon d”Automne. The most traumatizing ceramic (one that Picasso may have already seen with Vollard) was the ghastly Oviri. Until 1987 when the Musée d”Orsay acquired this little known work (exhibited only since 1906) it was never recognized as the masterpiece it is, let alone being recognized for its relevance to the works that led to Demoiselles. Although less than 30 inches tall, Oviri has great presence, as a monument to Gauguin”s tomb should. Picasso was struck by Oviri. Fifty years later he was happy when (Douglas) Cooper and I told him that we had found this sculpture in a collection that also had the original plaster of his Cubist head. Was it a revelation, like the Iberian sculpture? Picasso shuddered, positively. He had always loathed admitting Gauguin”s role in leading him to primitivism.
Gauguin”s initial artistic orientation was from Pisarro, but the relationship left a greater mark personally than stylistically. Gauguin”s teachers were Giotto, Raphael, Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Manet, Degas and Cézanne. His own beliefs, and in some cases the psychology behind his work, were also influenced by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé.
Gauguin, like other of his contemporaries such as Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, employed a technique for painting on canvas known as peinture à l”essence. For this, the oil (binder) is drained from the paint and the pigment residue is mixed with turpentine. He may have used a similar technique when preparing his monotypes, using paper instead of metal, as it would absorb the oil giving the matte appearance to the paintings he desired. He also tried it some of his existing drawings with the aid of glass, copying a lower image onto the surface of the glass with watercolor or gouache for printing. Gauguin”s woodcuts were no less innovative, even for the avant-garde artists responsible for reviving woodcut at the time. Rather than etching his blocks with the intent of achieving a detailed illustration, Gauguin initially chiseled his blocks in a manner similar to wood carving, followed by the use of finer tools to create detail and tonality within his bold outlines. Many of his tools and techniques were considered experimental. This methodology and use of space ran parallel to his painting of flat and decorative reliefs.
Beginning in Martinique, Gauguin began to use proximity in analogous colors to achieve a muted effect. Shortly after this he also made advances in non-representational color, creating canvases that had an independent existence and vitality of their own. This gap between surface reality and himself displeased Pisarro and led quickly to the end of their relationship. His human figures at this time were also a reminder of his love affair with Japanese prints, particularly the innocence of his figures and their compositional austerity, which became an influence on his primitive manifesto. For that same reason, Gauguin was also inspired by folk art. He sought an emotional purity exhibited in his subjects that was directly conveyed, emphasizing large forms and vertical lines that clearly defined shape and contour. Gauguin also used complex formal decoration and colors in abstract patterns, attempting to provide harmony between man and nature. His depictions of natives in their natural environments are often evidence of autonomous serenity and sustainability. This alluded to one of Gauguin”s favorite themes, which was the intrusion of the supernatural into everyday life, in one instance going so far as to depict ancient Egyptian tomb reliefs with the works Her Name is Vairaumati and Ta Matete.
In an interview with L”Écho de Paris published on March 15, 1895, Gauguin explains that developing his tactical approach is to achieve synesthesia (in art). He states:
In an 1888 letter to Schuffenecker, Gauguin explains the huge departure he had from Impressionism, saying that he now intended to capture the soul of nature, the ancient truths and character of its scenery and inhabitants. Gauguin wrote:
Gauguin began making etchings in 1889, in addition to a series of zincography works commissioned by Theo van Gogh, known as the Volpini Suite, which also appeared in the 1889 Café des Arts demonstration. Gauguin did not hesitate, even with his inexperience in prints, to choose number of provocative and unorthodox options, such as zinc plate instead of limestone (lithography), wide margins, and long sheets of yellowed paper stock. The result was vivid to the point of being very striking and garish, but foreshadowed his more complicated experiments with color printing and the attempt to elevate monochromatic images. His first print masterpieces were from Noa Noa Suite of 1893-94 where he essentially reinvented the medium of wood engraving, bringing it into the modern era. He began this series shortly after returning from Tahiti, eager to reclaim his leadership position within the avant-garde and to share images based on his excursion to French Polynesia. These woodblock prints were shown at his unsuccessful Paul Durand-Ruel exhibition in 1893, most being directly related to paintings of his own in which he recalled the original composition. They were shown again at a smaller exhibition in his studio in 1894, where he garnered critical acclaim for their exceptional painting and sculptural effects. Gauguin”s new preference for woodblock prints was not only a natural extension of his wood reliefs and sculpture, but may also have been prompted by their historical importance to medieval craftsmen and the Japanese.
Gauguin began monotype with watercolors in 1894, possibly overlapping with his Noa Noa woodcuts, perhaps even serving as a source of inspiration for them. His techniques remained innovative and it was an apt medium for him as it did not require complex equipment, as well as in the printing process. Despite often being a source of practice for his paintings, sculptures or associated prints, his innovation in monotype offered an ethereal aesthetic; ghostly images that could express his desire to convey the immemorial truths of nature. His next major project was a monotype and woodcut that ran until 1898-99, known as the Vollard Suite. He completed his initiative series of 475 prints of some twenty different compositions and sent them to the dealer Ambroise Vollard, despite not committing to his request for steady work. Vollard was not satisfied and made no effort to sell them. Gauguin”s series is clearly linked with the black and white aesthetic, plus he may have intended the prints to be similar to the myriorama set of cards, in that they could have been put in any order to create multiple panoramic landscapes. This activity of arranging and rearranging was similar to his own process of repurposing (repurposing) his images and subjects, as well as a tendency toward symbolism. He made the prints on Japanese paper as thin as a handkerchief and the multiple gray and black proofs could be arranged one on top of the other, with each color transparency showing through to produce a rich, chiaroscuro effect.
In 1889 he began his radical experiment: oil-transfer drawings. Like his monotype technique with watercolors, it was a mixture of drawing and engraving. The transfers were the grand culmination of his crusade to find an aesthetic of primordial proposition, which seems to be conveyed in his results that reflect ancient carvings, weathered frescoes and cave paintings. Gauguin”s technical advancement from monotype to oil transfers is quite remarkable, progressing from small sketches to painstakingly large, quality sheets. With these transfers he created depth and texture by printing multiple layers on the same sheet, starting with graphite pencil and black ink for outlining, before moving to blue crayon to reinforce lines and add shading. He often completed the image with a wash of olive or brown ink, from which he had removed oil. The practice consumed Gauguin until his death, fueling his imagination and conception of new subject matter for his paintings. This collection was also sent to Vollard who was never surprised. Gauguin appreciated oil transfers for the way they transformed the quality of the drawn line. His process, almost akin to alchemy, had elements of chance whereby unexpected marks and textures regularly emerged, something that fascinated him. In the metamorphosis from drawing to painting, Gauguin made the calculated decision to forgo legibility in order to gain mystery and abstraction.
He worked in wood throughout his career, particularly during his most prolific periods, and is known to have achieved radical results in printmaking before painting. Even in his earliest exhibitions, Gauguin often included wood carvings in his shows, by which he built his reputation as a connoisseur of the so-called primitive. A number of his early prints seem to have been influenced by Gothic and Egyptian art. In his correspondence, he also notes a passion for Cambodian art and the masterful color of Persian carpets and Oriental rugs.
The craze for Gauguin”s work began shortly after his death. Many of his most recent paintings were acquired by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. An important part of his collection is displayed in the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage. Gauguin”s paintings are rarely sold, as their prices reach tens of millions of dollars. His 1892 work When Are You Getting Married became the world”s most expensive work of art when its owner, the family of Rudolf Staechelin, sold it privately for US$300 million in February 2015. It is believed to have been bought by the Qatar Museums.
The Japanese-style Gauguin Museum in front of the Papeari Botanical Gardens in Papeari, Tahiti, contains exhibits of original documents, photographs and sketches, as well as prints by Gauguin. In 2003 the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center opened in Atuona in the Marquesas Islands.
In 2014 the painting Fruits sur une table ou nature au petit chien (1889), with an estimated value of €10m and €30m (£8.3m to £24.8m), which had been stolen in London in 1970, was discovered in Italy. The painting, along with a work by Pierre Bonnard, were bought by a Fiat employee in 1975, in a sale due to loss of property due to railway construction, for 45,000 lire (about £32).
Paul Gaughin on YouTube.