Paul Gauguin: Artist Portrait

Paul Gauguin

Born 1848. Died 1903.

Works by Paul Gauguin at Sotheby's

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Paul Gauguin Biography

Born in Paris on 7 June 1849, Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin spent the earliest years in exile with his family in Lima, Peru, before returning to France. His did not pursue art exclusively in his early adulthood, instead serving for several years as a merchant marine, and later as a stockbroker’s clerk in Paris. In the early 1870s Gauguin tried painting, and visited the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. That same year, he met and began working with Camille Pissarro, who encouraged him to pursue an artistic career. By 1876 he was accepted in the Paris Salon, and was featured in that exhibition annually from 1879 through 1886.

Gauguin began to meet other notable artists of the time, including Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh. In 1887 he travelled with fellow artist Charles Laval to Panama and Martinique, a trip that would later inspire his voyage and eventual relocation to the South Pacific. In his remaining years in Paris, Gauguin worked closely with the Synthetists and Symbolist artistic and literary groups. It was his association with those avant-garde circles that led to his break with Impressionism, and pursue more radical use of color in his work.

In 1881, inspired both by his youth in Lima and travels to the Caribbean, Gauguin undertook his first trip to Tahiti, a place that would inspire much of his most famous and recognizable works, such as Where Do we Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897–98, Museum of Fine Arts Boston), the title of which speaks to Gauguin’s increasing disillusionment with the Western world – he often referred to civilization as a “disease”).

In 1883, due to financial and health issues, Gauguin returned to France and shortly thereafter attempted, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide. After receiving a large inheritance, the artist was able to relocate to Dominica in the Marquesas Islands, where he lived and worked until his death in 1903. Despite having spent such long periods of time away from France, his reputation there flourished, and he has become established as one of the most significant French artists of the 19th century. His work can be found in the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; and the Kunstmuseum Basel.

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