1848 - 1903
"Reject black, and this mixture of white and black that they call grey. Nothing is black, nothing is grey. What appears grey is a mixture of bright-coloured shades detected by an experienced eye." – Paul Gauguin
A painter, etcher, drawer, sculptor and essayist, Paul Gauguin's work strongly influenced the birth of several artistic movements including the Nabis and Fauvism.
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born into a family that was both middle class and, on his mother's side, of Hispanic-Peruvian nobility. He spent his first years in Lima and throughout his life would maintain a taste for travel and exoticism. At age seventeen, he enlisted in the merchant marine and later became a stockbroker. He married a Dane, Mette-Sophie Gad in 1873, and became a father of five.
Influenced by his tutor Gustave Arosa, a businessman and great art lover, Paul Gauguin became a collector and bought several impressionist works. In 1874, he met the painter Camille Pissarro, who conveyed to him the sense of pictorial composition and colour. His painting would be greatly influenced by Pissarro, Les carrières du Chou, près de Pontoise was created during his vacation at his mentor's. From that point on, he became friends with Pissarrro and Degas and took part in the last five exhibitions of impressionist painters.
In 1882, having decided to live solely from his art, he saw his financial situation deteriorate rapidly. Although he earned little money by selling his paintings, his works were viewed favourably by critics. His transition to the impressionists gave him his sense of the outdoor light, the brightness of his colours, and his great independence from convention. He lived for a few years in Brittany, where he would be at the centre of a group of painters known as the Pont-Aven School. His style would evolve there, seeking inspiration in local art, medieval stained glass and Japanese stamps. He discovered these in 1888 thanks to Vincent Van Gogh, with whom he became friends.
In 1891 Gauguin sailed for Polynesia, hoping to flee western civilization and all that was artificial and conventional. He spent the remainder of his life in these tropical regions, first in Tahiti and then in the Marquesas Islands, returning to France only once. Despite solitude and material need, his work, influenced by the tropical environment and Polynesian culture, would gain in vigour. He achieved some of his finest works there, revealing his sensual and mystic vision of life with intensity, among them the lithograph Manao tupapau: The Spirit of the Dead Watches.
Paul Gauguin's work, practically ignored during his lifetime, has had amazing posterity. In 1906 a major retrospective of his work was organized at the Salon d'automne in Paris.
Born in Paris, France, 07 June 1848
Died in Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, 08 May 1903
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