Paul Gauguin

French Post impressionist painterEugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born 7 June 1848 in Paris, France to Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal on June 7, 1848. During a time of tumultuous revolutionary upheavals throughout Europe.His father, a liberal journalist, came from a family of petit-bourgeoisie entrepreneurs residing in Orléans who fled France when the newspaper for which he wrote was suppressed by French authorities. Gauguin’s mother, Aline Marie Chazal, was the daughter of Andre Chazal, an engraver, and Flora Tristan, an author and activist in early socialist movements.

Paul Gauguin’s maternal grandmother, Flora Tristan, was the illegitimate daughter of Thérèse Laisnay and Don Mariano de Tristan Moscoso. Details of Thérèse’s family background are not known; her father, Don Mariano, was a Spanish nobleman and an officer of the Dragoons. Members of the wealthy Tristan Moscoso family held powerful positions in Peru.  Nonetheless, Don Mariano’s unexpected death plunged his mistress and daughter Flora into poverty. When Flora’s marriage with Andre failed, she obtained a small monetary settlement from her father’s Peruvian relatives. She sailed to Peru in hopes of enlarging her share of the Tristan Moscoso family fortune and published a popular travelogue of her experiences in Peru in 1838.  Gauguin’s maternal grandmother helped to lay the foundations for the 1848 revolutionary movements. Placed under surveillance by French police and suffering from overwork, she died in 1844

In 1850, Clovis Gauguin departed for Peru with his wife Alina and young children in hopes of continuing his journalistic career under the auspices of his wife’s South American relations. He died of a heart attack en route, and Alina arrived in Peru a widow with the 18-month-old Paul and his 2 ½ year-old sister, Marie. Gauguin’s mother was welcomed by her paternal granduncle, whose son-in-law would shortly assume the presidency of Peru. Paul enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attended by nursemaids and servants. He retained a vivid memory of that period of his childhood. Gauguin’s idyllic childhood in this “tropical paradise” ended abruptly when his family mentors fell from political power during Peruvian civil conflicts in 1854. Aline returned to France with her children, leaving Paul with his paternal grandfather, Guillaume Gauguin, in Orleans. Deprived by the Peruvian Tristan Moscoso Of a generous annuity, Alina settled in Paris to work as a dressmaker.

Gauguin was sent to the prestigious Catholic boarding school Petit Séminaire de La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin where He spent three years. At age fourteen, he entered the Loriol Institute in Paris, a naval preparatory school, before returning to Orléans to take his final year at the Lycée Jeanne D’Arc. Gauguin signed on as a pilot’s assistant in the merchant marine. Three years later, he joined the French navy in which he served for two years. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris working as a stockbroker. A close family friend, Gustave Arosa, got him a job at the Paris Bourse; Gauguin became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for the next 11 years. But in 1882 the Paris stock market crashed and the art market contracted. Gauguin’s earnings deteriorated sharply and he eventually decided to pursue painting full-time.

In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad (1850–1920). Over the next ten years, they had five children: Émile (1874–1955); Aline (1877–1897); Clovis (1879–1900); Jean René (1881–1961); and Paul Rollon (1883–1961). By 1884, Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he worked as a tarpaulin salesman. However He could not speak Danish, and the Danes did not want French tarpaulins. Mette became the chief earner, giving French lessons to trainee diplomats. His middle-class family and marriage fell apart after 11 years when Gauguin was driven to paint full-time. He returned to Paris in 1885, after his wife and her family asked him to leave

In 1873, Gauguin began painting in his free time. His Parisian life centred on the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Gauguin lived at 15, rue la Bruyère. Nearby were the cafés frequented by the Impressionists. Gauguin also visited galleries frequently and purchased work by emerging artists. He formed a friendship with Camille Pissarro and painted in his garden. Pissarro introduced him to various other artists. In 1877 Gauguin “moved to Vaugirard. Here, on the third floor at 8 rue Carcel, he had the first home in which he had a studio.[32] His close friend Émile Schuffenecker, a former stockbroker who also aspired to become an artist, lived close by. Gauguin showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882. In 1882, the stock market crashed and the art market contracted. Paul Durand-Ruel, the Impressionists’ primary art dealer, Subsequently stopped buying pictures from painters such as Gauguin. Gauguin’s earnings shrank. During 1883, he painted with Pissarro and occasionally Paul Cézanne and decided to earn his living painting. in 1884 Gauguin moved with his family to Rouen, however Mette returned to Copenhagen, and Gauguin following shortly after in November 1884, bringing with him his art collection, which subsequently remained in Copenhagen. In 1885 Gauguin returned to Paris accompanied by his six-year-old son Clovis. The other children remained with Mette in Copenhagen, where they had the support of family and friends while Mette herself was able to get work as a translator and French teacher. Clovis eventually fell ill and was sent to a boarding school, Gauguin’s sister Marie providing the funds.

He exhibited nineteen paintings and a wood relief at the eighth (and last) Impressionist exhibition in May 1886 including Baigneuses à Dieppe (“Women Bathing”). This exhibition also established Georges Seurat as leader of the avant-garde movement in Paris. However Gauguin rejected Seurat’s Neo-Impressionist Pointillist technique.In 1886 Gauguin visited the artist’s colony of Pont-Aven in Brittany.Where he became an unexpected success with the young art students Amongst whom was Charles Laval, who accompanied Gauguin the following year to Panama and Martinique. He producedpastel drawings of nude figures like those by Pissarro and Degas exhibited at the 1886 eighth Impressionist exhibition. He then painted La Bergère Bretonne (“The Breton Shepherdess”), and Jeunes Bretons au bain (“Young Breton Boys Bathing”), featuring aold use of colour. The English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, Illustrated a popular guide-book on Brittany with simple drawings, these caught the imagination of the avant-garde student artists at Pont-Aven. Gauguin  imitated them in his sketches of Breton girls including Four Breton Women, which departed from his earlier Impressionist style and incorporated elements of Caldecott’s illustration, exaggerating features to the point of caricature.Gauguin, along with Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Émile Schuffenecker and many others, re-visited Pont-Aven after his travels in Panama and Martinique. The bold use of pure color and Symbolist choice of subject matter distinguish what is now called the Pont-Aven School.

Disenchanted with Impressionism, Gauguin felt that traditional European painting had become too imitative and lacked symbolic depth. However the art of other cultures such as Africa Japan and Asia seemed to him full of mystic symbolism and vigour. He was invited to participate in the 1889 exhibition organized by Les XX. Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin’s work evolved towards Cloisonnism, named by critic Édouard Dujardin in response to Émile Bernard’s method of painting with flat areas of color and bold outlines, which reminded Dujardin of the Medieval cloisonné enameling technique.Gauguin appreciatedBernard’s art and his simple style of expressing the essence of the objects in his art. The Yellow Christ is often cited as a quintessential Cloisonnist work, Containing reduced to areas of pure color separated by heavy black outlines. In these paintings Gauguin Ignored classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of color, eliminating two characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting. His painting later evolved towards Synthetism In 1887, after visiting Panama, Gauguin spent several months near Saint Pierre in Martinique, accompanied by his friend the artist Charles Laval arriving via Panama where he had found himself broke and without a job. Gauguin and Laval decided to get off the boat at the Martinique port of St. Pierre and decided to stay on the island. However, the weather in the summer was hot and the hut leaked in the rain. Gauguin also suffered dysentery and marsh fever. While in Martinique, Gauguin travelled widely and came into contact with a small community of Indian immigrants; a contact that would later influence his art through the incorporation of Indian symbols.

Gauguin finished 11 paintings during his stay in Martinique, which were brightly colored, loosely painted, outdoor figural scenes. Rural and indigenous populations remained a popular subject for Gauguin and his Martinique paintings were exhibited at the Arsène Poitier’s gallery. Theo van Goch purchased three of Gauguin’s paintings for 900 francs and arranged to have them hung at Goupil’s, thus introducing Gauguin to wealthy clients. At the same time Vincent van Goch and Gauguin became close friends. However Gauguin’s relationship with Vincent proved fraught. In 1888, at Theo’s instigation, Gauguin and Vincent spent nine weeks painting together at Vincent’s Yellow House in Arles. Their relationship deteriorated and eventually Gauguin decided to leave when on 23 December 1888 van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor blade and Later the same evening, cut off his left ear. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a domestic worker who was his friend, and asked her to “keep this object carefully, in remembrance of me.” Van Gogh was hospitalized and Gauguin left ArlesThey never saw each other again. An 1889 sculptural self-portrait Jug in the form of a Head, Self-portrait appears to reference Gauguin’s traumatic relationship with van Gogh. However Edgar Degas remained Gauguin’s most admired contemporary artist and a great influence on his work. The public support from Degas for Gauguin was unwavering. Gauguin held a Durand-Ruel exhibition in November 1893, which Degas chiefly organized. However Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Pissarro did not appreciate his work, however Degas admired the exotic sumptuousness of Gauguin’s conjured folklore In appreciation, Gauguin presented Degas with The Moon and the Earth, Gauguin also painted Riders on the Beach. Degas later purchased two paintings at Gauguin’s 1895 auction to raise funds for his final trip to Tahiti. These were Vahine no te vi (Woman with a Mango) and Gauguin’s copy of Manet’s Olympia.

In 1890, Gauguin decided to visit Tahiti. In 1891 he visited his wife and children in Copenhagen, then Gauguin set sail for Tahiti promising to return a rich man and make a fresh start. He spent the first three months in Papeete, the capital of the colony and already much influenced by French and European culture. He decided to set up his studio in Mataiea, Papeari, some forty-five kilometres from Papeete. His paintings  Fatata te Miti (By the Sea), Vahine no te tiare (ca) (Woman with a Flower) and Ia Orana Maria (ca) (Ave Maria) depicting Tahitian life. By 1892 Vahine no te tiare was being displayed at Goupil’s gallery in Paris. Gauguin was lent copies of Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout’s (fr) 1837 Voyage aux îles du Grand Océan and Edmond de Bovis’ (fr) 1855 État de la société tahitienne à l’arrivée des Européens, containing full accounts of Tahiti’s forgotten culture and religion. He was fascinated by the accounts of Arioi society and their god ‘Oro, these accounts contained no illustrations So Gauguin painted twenty paintings and a dozen woodcarvings Such as Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi), representing Oro’s terrestrial wife Vairaumati, His illustrated notebook of the time, Ancien Culte Mahorie (it), is also preserved in the Louvre. Nine of his paintings were also exhibited in Copenhagen in a joint exhibition with the late Vincent van Gogh.

Sadly Gauguin started having health problems diagnosed as heart problems by the local doctor, which may have been the early signs of cardiovascular syphilis. Gauguin later wrote a travelogue (first published 1901) titled Noa Noa describing his experiences in Tahiti and writing that he had taken a thirteen-year-old girl as native wife or vahine (the Tahitian word for “woman”), a marriage contracted in the course of a single afternoon. This was Teha’amana, called Tehura in the travelogue. Teha’amana was the subject of several of Gauguin’s paintings, including Merahi metua no Tehamana and the celebrated Spirit of the Dead Watching, as well as a notable woodcarving Tehura now in the Musée d’Orsay. In 1893, Gauguin returned to France,and continued to paint Tahitian subjects such as Mahana no atua (it) (Day of the God) and Nave nave moe (pl) (Sacred spring, sweet dreams). He exhibited forty paintings at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1894 And moved into an apartment at 6 rue Vercingétorix on the edge of the Montparnasse district frequented by artists, and began to conduct a weekly salon. He dressed in Polynesian costume, and had an affair with a young woman still in her teens, “half Indian, half Malayan”, known as Annah the Javanese. In 1894 he began using an experimental technique for the Woodcuts in his proposed travelogue Noa Noa and returned to Pont-Aven. In 1895 He submitted a large ceramic sculpture he called Oviri to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts 1895 salon opening in April. SadlyGauguin and his wife Mette  separated.

After becoming disillusioned with the Paris art scene Gauguin set out for Tahiti again In 1895 to try to reclaim his place in Tahiti society and spent the next six years living around Papeete He built a spacious reed and thatch house at Punaauia in an affluent area ten miles east of Papeete, settled by wealthy families, in which he installed a large studio. He subscribed to the Mercure de France and maintained an active correspondence with fellow artists, dealers, critics, and patrons in Paris. During his time in Papeete he became increasingly involved in local politics, contributing abrasively to a local journal opposed to the colonial government, Les Guêpes (The Wasps), and eventually edited his own monthly publication Le Sourire: Journal sérieux (The Smile: A Serious Newspaper), later titled simply Journal méchant (A Wicked Newspaper). In 1900 he became the editor of Les Guêpes until leaving Tahiti in 1901. Gauguin began producing wooden carvings such as Oyez Hui Iesu (Christ on the Cross) and also painted Te tamari no atua (Son of God) and O Taiti (Nevermore).

Sadly His health worsened and he was hospitalised several times for a variety of ailments. While he was in France, he had his ankle shattered in a drunken brawl on a seaside visit to Concarneau, which never healed properly. Now painful and debilitating sores that restricted his movement were erupting up and down his legs. These were treated with arsenic. Gauguin blamed the tropical climate and described the sores as “eczema”. Then his favorite daughter Aline died tragically from pneumonia and he had to vacate his house because its land had been sold. Failing health and pressing debts brought him to the brink of despair. At the end of the year he completed his monumental Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, which he regarded as his masterpiece and final artistic testament which was exhibited at Vollard’s gallery in Paris along with eight thematically related paintings in 1898.Gauguin decided to visit the Marquesas Islands in search of a yet more primitive society. He spent his final months in Tahiti. Gauguin was unable to continue his work in ceramics in the islands Gauguin’s vahine during all this time was Pahura (Pau’ura) a Tai, the daughter of neighbours in Punaauia and aged fourteen and a half when he took her in. She bore him two children, of which a daughter died in infancy. The other, a boy, she raised herself.

Gauguin had wanted to visit the Marquesas ever since seeing a collection of intricately carved Marquesan bowls and weapons in Papeete during his first months in Tahiti. Sadly Of all the Pacific island groups, the Marquesas were the most affected by the import of Western diseases (especially tuberculosis) And an eighteenth century and population of some 80,000 had declined to just 4,000. Catholic missionaries tried to control drunkenness and promiscuity, and obliged all native children to attend missionary schools into their teens. French colonial rule was enforced by a gendarmerie noted for its malevolence and stupidity, while traders, both western and Chinese, exploited the natives. In 1901Gauguin settled in Atuona on the island of Hiva-Oa, Which was the administrative capital of the islands but was considerably less developed than Papeete. It had an efficient and regular steamer service between the two and a military doctor but no hospital. So Gauguin Relied on the island’s two health care workers, the Vietnamese exile Nguyen Van Cam (Ky Dong), who had settled on the island but had no formal medical training, and the Protestant pastor Paul Vernier, who had studied medicine and theology. He bought a plot of land in the center of the town from the Catholic mission, and ingratiated himself with the local bishop Monseigneur Joseph Martin,

Gauguin built a sturdy two-floor house on his plot, In the early days at least, until Gauguin found a vahine, and the walls were Decorated with nudes, which drew appreciative crowds in the evenings from the natives but did not endear Gauguin to the bishop. Gauguin then erected two sculptures he placed at the foot of his steps lampooning the bishop and a servant reputed to be his mistress and also criticized the unpopular missionary school system. The sculpture of the bishop, Père Paillard, is at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. State funding for the missionary schools had ceased as a result of the 1901 Associations Bill promulgated throughout the French empire. This led to numerous teenage daughters being withdrawn from the schools (Gauguin called this process “rescuing”). He took as vahine one such girl, Vaeoho (also called Marie-Rose), the fourteen-year-old daughter of a native couple who lived in an adjoining valley six miles distant. Sadly Gauguin’s health was worse and he was covered in sores which required daily dressing. He then settled into his new home with Vaeoho, a cook (Kahui), two other servants (nephews of Tioka), his dog, Pegau and a cat.  Here he began a period of productive work, painting twenty canvases including landscapes, still lifes, and figure studies Including Jeune fille à l’éventail (Young Girl with Fan) and Le Sorcier d’Hiva Oa (Marquesan Man in a Red Cape). The model for Jeune fille was the red-headed Tohotaua, the daughter of a chieftain on a neighbouring island. Le sorcier depicts a long-haired young man wearing an exotic red cape. The androgynous nature of the image suggests that Gauguin intended to depict a māhū (i.e. a third gender person) rather than a taua or priest.The third picture of the trio is the mysterious and beautiful Contes barbares (Primitive Tales) featuring Tohotau again and Jacob Meyer de Haan, a painter friend of Gauguin’s from their Pont-Aven days. the middle figure is again androgynous, identified by some as Haapuani. The Buddha-like pose and the lotus blossoms suggests to Elizabeth Childs that the picture is a meditation on the perpetual cycle of life and the possibility of rebirth.

In 1902, the governor of French Polynesia, Édouard Petit (fr), arrived in the Marquesas to make an inspection. He was accompanied by Édouard Charlier as head of the judicial system. Charlier was an amateur painter who had been befriended by Gauguin when he first arrived as magistrate at Papeete in 1895. However their relationship soured when Charlier refused to prosecute Gauguin’s then vahine Pau’ura for a number of trivial offences, allegedly housebreaking and theft, she had committed at Punaauia while Gauguin was away working in Papeete.Gauguin also published an open letter attacking Charlier about the affair in Les Guêpes.

Gauguin and the settlers criticized the invidious taxation system so as a protest Gauguin refused pay his taxes and encouraged the settlers, traders and planters, to do likewise. Sadly Gauguin’s health deteriorated further with symptoms including pain in the legs, heart palpitations, and general debility. The pain in his injured ankle grew insupportable and became so extreme that he resorted to morphine injections. However he was sufficiently concerned by the habit he was developing to turn his syringe set over to a neighbour, relying instead on laudanum. His sight was also beginning to fail and for a while he considered returning to Europe, to Spain, to get treatment. In July 1902, Vaeoho, by then seven months pregnant, left Gauguin to return home to her neighbouring valley of Hekeani Gauguin did not subsequently take another vahine, his quarrel with Bishop Martin over missionary schools also reached its height. After The local gendarme Désiré Charpillet, at first friendly to Gauguin, wrote a report to the administrator of the island group, who resided on the neighbouring island of Nuku Hiva, criticising Gauguin for encouraging natives to withdraw their children from school as well as encouraging settlers to withhold payment of their taxes. Luckily the administrator was François Picquenot, was an old friend of Gauguin’s from Tahiti and advised Charpillet not to take any action over the schools issue, since Gauguin had the law on his side, but authorised Charpillet to seize goods from Gauguin in lieu of payment of taxes if all else failed.

Gauguin took to writing and In 1901, the manuscript of Noa Noa that Gauguin together with woodcuts prepared in Paris was finally published with Morice’s poems in book form in the La Plume edition. Sections of it (including his account of Teha’amana) had previously been published without woodcuts in 1897 in La Revue Blanche, while he himself had published extracts in Les Guêpes while he was editor. He then considered writing other books. In 1902 he revised an old 1896–97 manuscript L’Esprit Moderne et le Catholicisme (The Modern Spirit and Catholicism) on the Roman Catholic church, adding some twenty pages containing insights gleaned from his dealings with Bishop Martin. He sent this text to Bishop Martin, who responded by sending him an illustrated history of the church. He also wrote  witty and well-documented essay Racontars de Rapin (Tales of a Dabbler) on critics and art criticism.

On 27 March the steamer service Croix du Sud was shipwrecked off the Apataki atoll and for a period of three months the island was left without mail or supplies. When mail service resumed, Gauguin penned an angry attack on Governor Petit in an open letter, complaining amongst other things about the way they had been abandoned following the shipwreck. The letter was published by L’Indepéndant, the successor newspaper to Les Guêpes, in Papeete. Gauguin also sent the letter to Mercure de France, He followed this with a private letter to the head of the gendarmerie in Papeete, complaining about his own local gendarme Charpillet’s excesses in making prisoners labour for him. Charpillet was replaced  by another gendarme Jean-Paul Claverie from Tahiti, who had in fact had fined him in his earliest Mataiea days for public indecency.

Sadly His health deteriorated to the extent that he was scarcely able to paint. He began an autobiographical memoir he called Avant et après (Before and After) The title reflected his experiences before and after coming to Tahiti and as tribute to his own grandmother’s unpublished memoir Past and Future. It contained collection of observations about life in Polynesia, his own life, and comments on literature and paintings. He included in it attacks on subjects as diverse as the local gendarmerie, Bishop Martin, his wife Mette and the Danes in general, and outlined his personal philosophy conceiving life as an existential struggle to reconcile opposing IdeasIn 1903, Gauguin campaigned to expose the incompetence of the island’s gendarmes, Jean-Paul Claverie, taking the side of the natives directly in a case involving the alleged drunkenness of a group of them, writing to the administrator, François Picquenot, alleging corruption by one of Claverie’s subordinates. Picquenot investigated the allegations. Claverie responded by filing a charge of libeling a gendarme against Gauguin, who was subsequently fined 500 francs and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment by the local magistrate on 27 March 1903. Gauguin immediately filed an appeal in Papeete and set about raising the funds to travel to Papeete to hear his appeal.

By this time Gauguin was very weak and in great pain. He resorted once again to using morphine. He died suddenly on the morning of 8 May 1903. He also sent for his pastor Paul Vernier, complaining of fainting fits. They had chatted together and Vernier had left, believing him in a stable condition. However Gauguin’s neighbour Tioka found him dead at 11 o’clock. Gauguin was buried in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa. In 1973, a bronze cast of his Oviri figure was placed on his grave. Word of Gauguin’s death did not reach France (to Monfreid) until 23 August 1903. In the absence of a will, his less valuable effects were auctioned in Atuona while his letters, manuscripts and paintings were auctioned in Papeete on 5 September 1903 Mette Gauguin received the proceeds of the auction, some 4,000 francsOne of the paintings auctioned in Papeete was Maternité II, a smaller version of Maternité I in the Hermitage Museum. The original was painted at the time his then vahine Pau’ura in Punaauia gave birth to their son Emile. It was sold for 150 francs to a French naval officer, Commandant Cochin, who said that Governor Petit himself had bid up to 135 francs for the painting. It was sold at Sotheby’s for US$39,208,000 in 2004.The Paul Gauguin Cultural Center at Atuona has a reconstruction of the Maison du Jouir. The original house stood empty for a few years, the door still carrying Gauguin’s carved lintel. This was eventually recovered, four of the five pieces held at the Musée D’Orsay and the fifth at the Paul Gauguin Museum in Tahiti.

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