Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin descended from Spanish settlers in South America and the viceroy of Peru, was born in Paris on June 7, 1848 at the height of the 1848 Revolution, to a French father, Clovis Gauguin who was a journalist from Orléans who worked as a reporter for "Lye National". His mother Aline Marie Chazel, was the daughter of Flora Tristan, a political speaker and follower of "Saint-Simon, of Peruvian-Spanish extraction. After Napoleon III's coup d'état, Gauguin and his family including 3 year old son Paul, moved in 1851 to Lima, Peru. His father died on the way. Gauguin and his mother remained in Lima Peru for 4 years with Paul's uncle and his family, returning after this to Orléans, where he attended a seminary. At the age of seven, Paul and his family returned to France. They moved to Orleans, France to live with his grandfather. His mother died in 1867, when Gauguin was 19 years of age, leaving legal guardianship of the family with the businessman Gustave Arosa, who, upon Gauguin's release from the merchant marine, secured a position for him as a stockbroker and introduced him to his future wife.
Gauguin had been interested in art since his childhood. In his free time, he began painting. When he was seventeen years old he joined the French merchant navy, travelling around the world for six years. His mother died when he was nineteen years old. He spent some time in the Navy, then turned to banking and gained success as a stockbroker's clerk in Paris and remaining in this profession for twelve years, working weekdays and spenting holidays painting with Pisarro and Cezanne. Gauguin was a financially successful stockbroker and self-taught amateur artist when he began collecting works by the impressionists in the 1870s. The first drawings known to have been done by him are from 1871 when he was nearly at the age of 30.
Gauguin met Emile Schuffenecker, a minor painter of the Pont-Aven school, in 1872, were they were both employed in a stockbroker's office. Until the early 1890s when they had a falling out, Schuffenecker was very supportive of Gauguin, encouraging him to take up a career in painting, inviting him to dinner or to stay with him.
MARRIAGE & FAMILY
In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad. They were married in Paris. Over the next ten years, they had five children, Emile, Aline, Clovis, Jean Rene, and Pola. Gauguin met Pissarro in about 1875 and began to study under the supportive older artist, at first struggling to masterthe techniques of painting and drawing. In 1876 his Landscape at Viroflay was accepted for the official annual exhibition in France, the Salon d'Automne. He was now 28 years old.
In 1883-84 the bank that employed Gauguin got into financial difficulties and he lost his job when the French stock market crashed in 1882. At this time Gauguin began to paint every day. In 1884 he moved his family to Rouen, France, and took odd jobs. His wife and children moved to Copenhagen, Denmark and so began his tumultuous years as an artist. He traveled to Denmark, then lived in Rouen, both times attempting to make a viable life with his family and painting. Creativity was important to Gauguin, “The only to rise toward God is by doing as our Divine master does, create”. He began to show his work, and in 1885 began to paint full-time. Gauguin's break with the Impressionists came when he painted "Vision after the Sermon," (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) where he tried to depict the inner feelings of his subjects.
In 1886, with his eldest son Clovis enrolled in a boarding school, Gauguin lived for a few months in the village of Pont-Aven in the Brittany region of northwestern France. He began experimenting with ceramics and sculpture. In April 1887 Gauguin went to Panama to work as a laborer for the Panama canal project, where his sister’s husband was working as a business man. He soon left Panama for Martinique, where he continued his development as an artist.But he was dismissed after only two weeks.
For the last two months of 1888, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin lived and painted together in a little yellow house in Arles, in the south of France. Gauguin integrated obvious religious images into his work at an increasing rate, and his colors continue to evolve in subsequent 1888 works, specifically “Round Dance of Breton Girls.” (1888), From 1886 to 1891 Gauguin lived mainly in a region of rural France known as Brittany where he became associated with an experimental group of painters, the school of Pont-Aven where he became a mentor to many of the artists who assembled there at Pont-Aven. The painting "The Yellow Christ" is typical for this period. Gauguin used a yellow, wooden statue from a church near Pont-Aven as his model. He depicts Breton women as if they were in the presence of the actual death of Jesus Christ.
In 1889, Paul Gauguin experimented with fresco, creating a 52 x 24 inch work entitled: St. Joan of Arc, the legendary medieval heroine and patron saint of France. It depicts a Breton peasant girl spinning wool on the seashore accompanied by her dog and her cow. The sword-bearing Archangel Michael, is in the expanse of sky overhead.
One of Gauguin's few works in modified fresco it was created for the dining room of Marie Henry, the owner of an inn in Le Pouldu, Brittany located at the western end or the other end of the English channel from Flandres. This picture was covered for several years by tattered wallpaper, only to be rediscovered by Abraham Rattner, a young American art student, in 1924. He purchased the painting, selling it to a private collector in 1965. The rarely seen piece is valued at near $2,000,000.
In the spring of 1894, in Brittany, he and some of his friends were attacked by a far superior number of sailors who knocked him down and kicked him so savagely with their wooden shoes that he was left with his right leg broken just above the ankle, an injury that troubled him for life. In 1898 Gauguin attempted suicide. That same year he took a job as a clerk for the Public works office at Papeete.
TRAVELS TO INDIA & THE SOUTH SEAS
He then sailed to Martinique Island in the West Indies and he traveled to the South Seas several times during his years as an artist. Van Gogh's brother Theo, who was Gauguin's art dealer, suggested Gauguin visit his brother Vincent Van Gogh.
Gauguin found his inspiration in the art of indigenous peoples, in medieval stained glass, and in Japanese prints; he was introduced to Japanese prints by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh when they spent two months together in Arles, in the south of France, in 1888. "One must draw and draw again. It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one day you are amazed to discover that you have found the way to render a thing with its own character."
STUDIO IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
Lacking the compaanionship of artist friends at Arles, Vincent confided in his brother Theo that he was feeling somewhat lonely and enlisted Theo's assistance in bringing Paul Gauguin to Provence to work with him. Both van Gogh brothers had been impressed with Gauguin's paintings from a recent trip to Martinique. Vincent Van Gogh invited Gauguin to paint with him in his studio there in the south of France. With financial assistance from his art-dealer brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh made this southern project work. In order to help persuade Gauguin to move to the Studio of the South, Theo provided a 250 franc monthly allowance in exchange for one of Gauguin's paintings each month. Vincent began painting sunflowers to decorate Gauguin's bedroom. These sunflowers would later become one of his signature pieces. Gauguin by buying sackcloth or jute to paint on because it was cheaper than canvas. Vincent found a suitable location which proved to be the right wing of the building, 2, Place Lamartine, Arles, France. On May 1, 1888, Van Gogh rented four rooms, two large ones on the ground floor to serve as atelier and kitchen, and, on the first floor, two smaller ones facing Place Lamartine. The window on the first floor near the corner with both shutters open is that of Van Gogh's guest room, where Paul Gauguin lived for nine weeks from late October, 1888. Behind the next window, with one shutter closed, is Van Gogh's Bedroom. The two small rooms at the rear were rented by Van Gogh at a later time. The left wing housed a grocery.
The building suffered various stages of rebuilding, before it was severely damaged in a bombing raid by the Allies on June 25, 1944 and was later demolished. Both artists began to experiment with compositional techniques derived from Japanese art. Vincent was enthusiastic about the venture envisioning it as a new kind of learning atmosphere for young painters, and he painted many canvasses in preparation for Gauguin's arrival. Upon Gauguin's arrival to the house Oct. 23, 1888, the men worked relentlessly on their art, often simultaneously painting the same subject in order to explore their different ideas on style. The Studio of the South experiment dissolved abruptly on 23 December 1888, when Van Gogh injured himself. Gauguin's in recounting the evening of December 23, 1888, stated that Van Gogh confronted him with a razor, demanding to know if he intended to leave Arles. Gauguin's confirmation upset van Gogh to much, that he turned and fled. Disturbed by this irrational behavior, Gauguin stayed the night at a hotel. But the two men maintained a fruitful correspondence until Van Gogh's death in 1890.
Gauguin's paintings during this phase include: Haystack Near Arles; Lane at Alchamps, Arles; Washerwomen At The Roubine Du Roi Arles; Night Cafe at Arles; Grape Harvest in Arles; Apple Trees at l'Hermitage; Landscape Near Arles; Old Women of Arles (1888) portrays a group of women moving through a flattened, arbitrarily conceived landscape in a solemn procession. As in much of his work from this period, Gauguin applied thick paint in a heavy manner to raw canvas.
PAINTING IN TAHITI & THE SOUTH SEA ISLANDS
In 1891 Paul Gauguin sold thirty paintings of his paintings. One of his clients was Edgar Degas. With the money from these sales he was able to set sail to Tahiti in the South Seas. He was in his 40s, when he set out for French Polynesia and a set of high expectations. His first choice of a place to go had actually been Indo-China, where he optimistically expected to be employed as an administrator in the recently established French colonial service. His second choice was Madagascar. Gauguin embarked from Marseilles, arriving in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, in 1891, after a sea journey of over two monthes. Half of Papeete was destroyed by a major fire in 1884, which then prohibited the use of native building materials. Gauguin disliked Papeete and spent his first 2 years in the rural Mataiea district, on Tahiti's south coast and this is where he lived from 1891 to 1893.
In 1903, he ran into problems due to his not infrequent clashes with the Catholic church for his counsel to the natives not to send their children to the mission schools. And with the colonial authorities for protesting excessively heavy taxes. Then a complaint about the corrupt behaviour of a policeman led to his being charged with libel and sentenced on 31 March 1903 to three months in prison, and fined.
At that time he was being supported by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Very sick, Gauguin writes to the Reverend Paul Vernier, "I am ill, I can no longer walk".
Like Edouard Manet, Vincent and Theo Van gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), Gauguin died of syphilis, allegedly contracted while he was in Paris. His body weakened by the effects of alcohol, opium addiction and a dissipated life, his death occurred before he could start the prison sentence. He was 54 years old. Perhaps he'd gone there to die, knowing that his time was short. Initially, he'd arrived with a romantic image of Tahiti still in his head of it being an unspoiled paradise, derived in part from Pierre Loti’s novel Le Mariage de Loti (1880). But he found himself deeply disillusioned with the extent to which French colonization had corrupted Tahiti. Yet and still this was where he chose to live out his last days on earth. There was no eulogy at his burial, nor were there flowers. His plumeria-shaded grave site can be found in the Catholic cemetery called "Calvary Cemetery" in Atuona, overlooking Traitors Bay. It stands a top of a hill amid the trees and flowers. Surrounding the grave are the graves of natives, their mounds marked with stones and crosses of iron. The Tahitian Series evokes the Tahitian cycle of existence from birth through maturity to old age and death.
HIS LATER YEARS & DEATH
He arrived in 1901 on the steamer Croix de Sud, unloading his art supplies into a native canoe and was rowed ashore. Throughout the late 1890’s and early into the next century, Gauguin was plagued by illness. An ankle he had broken in Brittany did not heal properly, and he suffered from strokes. By 1902 an advanced case of syphilis restricted his mobility. He suffered with his feet and legs being very bad and he had to tie them up each day. He could not wear shoes but he painted and drank and painted some more. Early in the morning he was at work at his easel in the studio or under the trees, and every day he painted till the light was gone. Next to his workshop, there was a shelter for a horse and cart which was the only wheeled vehicle in the Marquesas. His only use for the cart was to carry him and his easel and chair to scenes he would paint. When the pain became too bad, he would inject himself with morphine and he would drink wine and talk and paint.
Concerning drawing, Gauguin said:"Don't make pretty, clever little lines, but be simple and insist on the major lines that count." On May 9th, 1903, Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin, died of a heart attack in 1903 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa, the largest of the Marquesas Islands, in French Polynesia. Three years after Gauguin’s death, 227 paintings were exhibited in Paris, and his reputation was established among the progressive artists of the day. Today a painting by Gauguin may sell for as much as $39 million. Gauguin liked working on an absorbent ground as this created a dull, matt effect on the oil paint colours. When Gauguin died penniless on May 8, 1903, Hiva Oa's priest seized his remaining canvases and burnt them in public as "the obscenities of a sad character, enemy of God and all that is honest".
PAUL GAUGUIN'S PAINTING TECHNIQUE
Beginning in 1886, Gauguin produced monumental figure paintings using full-scale cartoons to prepare them in a manner similar to that of the Quattrocento fresco painters. In the following years, brushwork and impasto disappeared from his paintings, as Gauguin began to imitate wax, tempera and fresco, producing works that contemporaries described as ‘primitive’.
Many of Gauguin’s paintings are on rough, unprimed hessian canvas or jute a method begun with coarse canvas while at the Studio South with Van Gogh in 1888. His paintings were executed primarily with a brush, but there is evidence that he occasionally used a palette knife. From a portable palette found in his painting studio after he died, it would appear Gauguin didn’t put out his colours in any particular order. The colours Gauguin used regularly included 1) Prussian blue, 2) cobalt blue, 3) emerald green, 4) viridian, 5) cadmium yellow, 6) chrome yellow, 7) red ochre, 8) cobalt violet, and 9) lead or zinc white. He doesn't appear to have ever cleaned his palette, preferring to mix fresh colours over dried-up paint. Typically Gauguin painted outlines of the subject directly onto the canvas in diluted Prussian blue or red. These were then filled in with opaque colours (rather than building colour up through glazes).
Cloisonnism" is a style of post-Impressionist painting with bold forms separated by dark contours. Artists Émile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, and others started painting in this style in the late 19th century. The name evokes the technique of cloisonné, where wires (cloisons or "compartments") are soldered to the body of the piece are filled with powdered and then fired.
In Yellow Christ (1889), often cited as a quintessential cloisonnist work, Gauguin reduced the image to areas of single colours separated by heavy black outlines. In such works he paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of colour — two of the most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting.
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