Born in France, Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) spent part of his early childhood living in Peru, sailed the world in the French merchant marine and navy, and worked as a stockbroker. Starting out as an amateur painter, he became a full-time artist in the early 1880s and exhibited with the Impressionists. Increasingly dissatisfied with the limits of naturalism, Gauguin defied conventions of representation and experimented in different media, pushing colour and form into novel expressive capacities. He created a Symbolist form of visual art concerned with the realms of dreams, imagination and spirituality.
From 1886 onward he repeatedly spent time in rural Brittany and travelled to the French colonies of Martinique (1887) and then Polynesia, seeking new subject matter in environments far removed from the Parisian art world. After an extended stay in Tahiti (1891–93), he returned to Paris where he aimed to confirm his role as an avant-garde leader. He left again for the islands of Polynesia in 1895 to live in self-imposed exile, all the while retaining the privileges of being European and cultivating his identity as an outsider searching for social and artistic liberation. Gauguin’s innovations and legacy became crucial for generations of artists both during his lifetime and well into the 20th century.