Paul Gauguin, Questioning Aboriginal Inspiration

The Frenchman Paul Gauguin lived his life in an errant way, painting and working piecework. Besides his friendship with Van Gogh, do you know what makes him so famous? Discover the origin of Gauguin’s Tahitian inspiration in this article.

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Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin, better known as Paul Gauguin, was a prominent French artist. His work has been classified as Post-Impressionist, Synthetist and Symbolist.

As a post-impressionist artist his work went beyond painting, he was also a sculptor, printer and writer. Although, his work acquired importance only after his death.

The artist is particularly known for his creative relationship with Vincent van Gogh. In addition, he is known to have abandoned his family opting for a self-imposed exile in Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Gauguin, famous for his bold colors, simplified forms and strong lines, had no formal artistic training. The painter followed his own vision against the artistic conventions of the time. His artistic experiments influenced many avant-garde developments at the beginning of the 20th century.

Childhood and youth

He was born on June 7, 1848 in Paris, France, in a wealthy family. His parents were Clovis Gauguin and Aline Maria Chazal. His father was a journalist.

The maternal family deserves special mention, her mother was the daughter of feminist leader and protosocialista Flora Tristan. His maternal grandfather, of Aragonese descent, belonged to an influential family in Peru.

In 1849, the political activities of his father forced the family to flee in exile from Luis Napoleón Bonaparte. The Gauguin family left for Peru on a trip marked by tragedy, as their father died during the trip. Gauguin’s mother and two children moved with a great uncle of the painter.

In the city of Lima, he would live in the aristocratic mansion of the Tristán and Moscoso for several years. Hence, the Castilian was his first language.

His stay in Peru would mark him for life, to such an extent that he himself was baptized as the ‘Peruvian savage’. The family returned to France when Paul Gauguin was seven years old.

For three years, he was in the Catholic boarding school of La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin. He served as a sailor when he was 17 years old and, later, joined the French Navy with which he served for two years.

Paul Gauguin: his career

In 1871, when he was 23 years old, he returned to Paris. He obtained a job as a stockbroker and became a successful businessman. At this stage, Paul Gauguin lived in prosperity.

He began to paint as a pastime in 1873. He forged a great friendship with the artist Camille Pissarro, and his work attracted the interest of the Impressionists.

The Impressionists were a group of revolutionary artists who defied traditional methods and themes. Although the majority had been rejected by the academics of French art.

Gauguin was invited to exhibit at the group’s fourth exhibition in 1879. Thus, his work appeared among the works of Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and other great artists.

Over time, he became disillusioned with impressionism and traditional European painting and was intrigued by the art of Africa and Asia. During that time in Europe, the art of other cultures was in vogue.

In 1889, his art had evolved into cloisonism after being influenced by popular art and Japanese art. That year, he produced his most famous work: The Yellow Christ.

With the desire to escape from European society, Paul Gauguin traveled to Tahiti in 1891. There, he hoped to explore his creative freedom. In this period, he painted By the Sea and Ave Maria, along with other paintings depicting Tahitian life.

He returned to France in 1893 and painted the Day of God in 1894, a work in which he portrayed the Tahitian religion. Subsequently, he moved to Punaauia, west coast of the island of Tahiti, in 1897; In this place, he painted Where do we come from? What are we? Where we go?.

Main works

His painting The Yellow Christ is undoubtedly considered as a key work of symbolism. It shows the crucifixion of Christ in nineteenth-century France. For his development, he used bold lines and bright colors such as red and green in the background, which contrast with the yellow he used to capture Christ.

The painting Where do we come from? What are we? Where we go? it covers the existential questions that arise in the minds of human beings for which they seek spiritual answers.

“Art is plagiarism or revolution.”

-Paul Gauguin-

By 1891, Gauguin borrowed the culture that surrounded him and managed to create truly innovative works. In La Orana María, she represented in a Tahitian mother and child the Christian figures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

According to various art historians, the work of Paul Gauguin was very inspiring for the painters who would later develop Cubism. Pablo Picasso, in particular, admired the thick brushstrokes of Gauguin.

Personal life and legacy

At age 25, he married the Danish Mette Sophie Gad, an amateur painter. With her, I would have 5 children in the next 10 years. After losing his job in the stock market in 1884, the family moved to Denmark.

There he tried to make a living working as a salesman. However, this effort was not successful and his wife had to take over and become the main breadwinner of the family.

Paul Gauguin decides to abandon his wife and children and dedicate himself fully to painting. From this moment on, his path becomes a true procession of misfortunes and vicissitudes. He also begins his long list of lovers and abandoned children.

In 1886, he moved to the region of Brittany, where he came to enjoy recognition in the community of young painters. In Pont-Aven, his unrequited love with the 17-year-old painter Madeleine Bernard influences his decision to travel to Arles, invited by Van Gogh.

The coexistence with Van Gogh resulted in one of the darkest episodes in the life of both painters. It is at this stage, the tragic event occurs in which Van Gogh loses his ear. On occasion, Gauguin has been seen as the trigger for Van Gogh’s madness.

Their dalliances with the lovers are continuous. Thus, he leaves pregnant another of his lovers, Juliette Huet, whom he would later leave.

Next, he begins his adventure of marching to Panama and the French Antilles. During a brief period of time, he worked as a worker for the Panama Canal Company.

Later, Paul Gauguin settled in Martinique in 1887. On the island, he produced his first works impregnated with indigenismo that later would lead him to fame.

In 1891, he moved to Tahiti, an island where he would produce his most recognized work later. He lived in Tahiti from 1891 to 1893 and, again, from 1895 until his death.

At this time, she has relations with a 13-year-old girl, Teha’amana, sold by her own parents. With her he had a daughter and, in addition, served as a model for his paintings.

After leaving, Paul Gauguin has many lovers with similar or even younger ages. This tendency to pedophilia, already at the time, aroused enormous controversy.

In 1893, Gauguin returned to France to show some of his Tahitian pieces. The response to his artwork was mixed and he did not manage to sell too much.

Art critics and buyers did not know what to do with their primitivist style. In a short time, Gauguin returned to French Polynesia.

The economic precariousness was constant in this stage of his life. His painting was not understood or appreciated in his time.

“I want to end my life here, in the solitude of my cabin. Oh, yes, I’m a criminal here, so what? Michelangelo was also “.

-Paul Gauguin-

Before his departure to Panama, he already suffered from tuberculosis, and also syphilis. Throughout his life he suffered attacks of depression and addiction to alcohol, and had even attempted suicide on one occasion.

He died as a result of an overdose of morphine and a heart attack in 1903, at the age of 54 years.

Recently, the life of the painter was represented in the film Gauguin, trip to Tahiti, by Edouard Deluc. In the film, the small indigenous inspirer of several masterpieces, who in real life was only 13 years old, is embodied by an older actress Tuhei Adams, 17 years old.