Gauguin 1848 - 1903 (55)

Life has no meaning unless one lives it with a will, at least to the limit of one's will. Virtue, good, evil are nothing but words, unless one takes them apart in order to build something with them; they do not win their true meaning until one knows how to apply them.


Paul Gauguin (7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a respected bourgeois family-man who abandoned family, work and comfort and lived in absolute poverty, near madness and depression, chasing his destiny. He became a leading Post-Impressionist painter. He was born in Paris from a French father and a Peruvian mother, his father was accused in 1849 of being an enemy of Napoleon and the family set off for Peru. On the journey his father died, the rest of the family arrived in Lima where they stayed for six years. They returned to France in 1855 and settled in Orleans. Ten years later, having received basic education, Paul enlisted in the French Navy. In 1867 his mother died and in 1870, the year that ended the Franco-Prussian war, he left the Navy and moved to Paris where he began to work as a stockbroker. At the same time he began to paint.

In 1873 he married the Danish Mete Gad, they had 5 children in 10 years. As time passed, Gauguin who was successful in his job and earned good money but also he resented is, he was thrilled with painting. One day he resigned from his job to devote himself to his art. This decision fell like a bomb in his home as they had no other income. When their savings were finished, in 1884, they went to Copenhagen, to live with his wife parents. He made an effort to acclimate and work, he took a position to a big ship company, but he was no happy, not interested in this kind of life. In 1885 he left wife and children and went to Paris to become a painter. After a very hard winter in Paris, where he did paint but he lived with no real income, just working occasionally as a bill poster, he went to Brittany where life was cheaper. There was that his art matured and escaped from impressionism, developing a personal style that he describes it as: "I don’t care about the color imitation of nature ... There is no exaggeration in the art. I believe that salvation in art is found only in extremity." His paintings are attracting interest but they do not sell. He had a persistent problem of survival, was often without food and shelter. Depressed and disappointed, in April 1887, he traveled to Panama, hoping for financial assistance from his brother in law. He found nothing but a hostile environment, he had to work in drilling Panama to save money and depart for the French colony of Martinique. He felt there like finding paradise but he was affected by malaria and had some tough days, he was forced in November to return to France for a cure. Hosted at a friend's house, he met Van Gogh and his brother Theo, who was an art dealer and showed an interest in his works, he managed to sell a few of them. In February 1888 Van Gogh moved to Arles and invited him in the yellow house where he wanted to create an art center. They stayed and worked together for 9 weeks until a stormy clash in which Van Gogh cut off his ear and sent it as a gift to a young prostitute. Some researchers argue that Gauguin was the one who cut off the ear but they kept it secret to avoid trouble for Gauguin, who left Arle in haste. Once again disappointed and in permanent economic collapse, he left Europe in 1891 and settled in Tahiti (French Polynesia). Europeans thought at the time that the natives of the conquered countries are barbaric and uncivilized; Gauguin was fascinated by their manners and customs, the freedom of their relations, the lack of exploitation of one party to another. Colonialism degraded rapidly the traditional way of life, Gauguin moved to the interior of the island in search of primitivism. He neither found an easy life there, as he had to work for a living and he was very often ill. But he painted incessantly and returned after two years in France with several paintings with themes from life in Tahiti. "I left two years older, twenty younger, even more brutal than I was when I arrived and yet more educated," he said for his departure from Tahiti. He made two exhibitions in Paris that although they had not a great success he sold a few painting and earned some money. In 1895 he returned to Tahiti, continued to paint feverishly, lived with a young Tahitian girl, still in poverty and in poor health. In 1898 he made a suicide attempt when he learned that his daughter had died. In 1901, after a transient improvement of health, he moved to more primitive places, namely the Marquise Islands. He lived in a remote hut, ate only if the natives, who called him "the crazy white" would brought him something. In 1903 he spoke in public against the colonial policy and sentenced to three months imprisonment by the colonial administration of the island. His health had deteriorated a lot, including syphilis and heavy suffering from addiction to various substances and alcohol. One day before entering the prison, on May 8, 1903, he died from an overdose of morphine and possible heart attack.

Paul Gauguin paintings