Paul Gauguin

Two Tahitian Women
   Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a French painter and leader in the post-impressionist movement, was born in Paris. His father, a journalist, was from Orleans, and his mother was born in Lima, Peru. As a boy, Gauguin sailed the seas for six years with the merchant marine. In 1871 he went to work in a Paris bank, and in his spare time painted as a hobby. His first work shows the influence of Delacroix and Gourbet. He soon adopted the impressionist technique. Encouraged by Pissaro to give all of his time to painting, he resigned his Job in 1883. Shortly afterward, he left his wife and children, and traveled far and wide, searching constantly for a Utopia where he would be free of the conventions of society. In 1887 he worked on the island of Martinique, and then went on to Pont Aven, where he became the leader of a small group of painters. Gauguin did not articulate his theories of painting, leaving that to others. Bernard' Filiger, and Serusier, using Gauguin's work as a basis, reduced the group's technique to a theory which emphasized composition rather than unity and coherence. They used colors with great intensity. Their major thesis was that a painting was a plane on which to present a significant pattern of color. The ideas of Gauguin and his group were taken up by a number of resourceful young artists in Paris, including Denis, Ibels, Ranson, Vuillard, and Maillol. In 1888 Gau­guin visited his friend Van Gogh in Arles, hoping to place before him some of the principies of impressionism. At the time, however, Van Gogh was suffering from a mental disease, and Gauguin went on to Brittany. There he produced "Le Ghrist Jaune," "La Lutte de Jacob et de l'Ange," and the celebrated portrait of himself. These were done with utmost simplicity and represent some of his best work of the period. In the meantime, he also did some interesting lithographs and wood carvings.
   In 1891, attracted by the lure of the tropics, Gauguin sold all of his paintings, and settled in Tahiti, where he led the life of a native and did his greatest work. He was inspired by the rich tropical colors, which characterize his most important paint­ings. Among the most remarkable examples of his use of pure, unmixed color are "L'esprit veille," "Seule," "Jours délicieux," "Le fuite," and "Devant la case." In addition, he produced many brilliant portraits, such as "Two Maori Women," Only once did he return to Paris, where he tried to sell some of his Tahitian pictures. But Parisians were then interested in the younger French artists who had remained in their native country, and Gauguin went back to the South Seas where he stayed until his death. For a short time he worked as a shipping clerk at the Board of Public Works in Papeete. His health began to fail, and he died shortly after a trip to the Marquesas Isles, where he was buried. His autobiography, Noa Noa, tells of his experiences in the islands.
   Gauguin's last and most significant painting was entitled "D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?" (Whence do we come? What are we? Where do we go?) In this great allegorical painting he attempted to represent in color, Une, and balanceod masses, the unanswered questions of people everywhere. In it was represented the impulse and dream of the artist's own life. Gauguin's theories of color, mass balance, and line, had great influence on his contemporaries. His work was a major factor in changing the direction of modern painting and also influenced the entire field of decorative design. His numerous paintings, primitive wood carvings, sculptures, lithographs, etchings, and work in stained glass can be seen in museums throughout Europe and America.