Motivated by a visit to the Tate on Friday with my friends the Dwyers here a some reflections on the artist Gauguin – the first blog is some biography – we shall move onto his work later in the week.
Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France to journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the half-Peruvian proto-socialist leader Flora Tristan, a feminist precursor. In 1851 the family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period. Clovis died on the voyage, leaving three-year old Paul, his mother and sister to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima, Peru with Paul’s uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Paul in his art.
At the age of seven, Paul and his family returned to France. They moved to Orléans, France to live with his grandfather. He soon learned French and excelled in his studies. At seventeen, Gauguin signed on as a pilot’s assistant in the merchant marine to fulfill his required military service. Three years later, he joined the French navy where he stayed for two years. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad. Over the next ten years, they had five children.
By 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, where he pursued a business career as a stockbroker. Driven to paint full-time, he returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family in Denmark. Without adequate subsistence, his wife (Mette Sophie Gadd) and their five children returned to her family. Gauguin outlived two of his children. Like his friend Vincent van Gogh, with whom in 1888 he spent nine weeks painting in Arles, Paul Gauguin experienced bouts of depression and at one time attempted suicide. In 1891, Gauguin, frustrated by lack of recognition at home and financially destitute, sailed to the tropics to escape European civilization and “everything that is artificial and conventional”. (Before this he had made several attempts to find a tropical paradise where he could ‘live on fish and fruit’ and paint in his increasingly primitive style, including short stays in Martinique and as a labourer on the Panama Canal construction; however, he was dismissed from his job after only two weeks.)
In 1903, due to a problem with the church and the government, he was sentenced to three months in prison and fined. At that time he was being supported by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. He died of syphilis before he could start the prison sentence. His body had been weakened by alcohol and a dissipated life. He was 54 years old.
Gauguin died on 8 May 1903 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.