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Paul Gauguin


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) is a leading figure among the French Post-Impressionists. His distinctive Synthetist style, with its emphasis on strong outlines and flat areas of pure colour, helped to bring about a totally new movement in contemporary painting. Frustrated by the western way of life, he moved to Tahiti in 1891. The works he produced on the tropical islands reflected his idealistic view of the essential link and harmony between man and nature.  The human figures in his paintings blend totally into his decoratively depicted settings.

Gauguin was born in Paris, but spent some of his early childhood in Lima, Peru, an experience that influenced the rest of his life. He joined the Merchant Navy and travelled extensively before acquiring a job as a stockbroker with the Bertin brokerage firm in Paris.

After the stock-market collapse of 1883 he became a full-time painter. His attempts to combine painting with family life failed, however, and in 1886 he left his wife and five children and moved to Pont-Aven in Brittany. The following year he travelled to Martinique via Panama with Charles Laval, returning to Brittany in 1888, where he worked alongside Emile Bernard. It was here that he developed his ‘synthetist’ style of painting, first demonstrated in his Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel). Later that year he visited Vincent van Gogh in Arles.

Gauguin’s work was first described as ‘symbolist’ by Albert Aurier in 1891, the year he embarked on his first trip to Tahiti. On returning to Paris he began to teach young artists, including Finland’s Väinö Blomstedt and Pekka Halonen, but in 1895 he went back to Tahiti and spent his last years in the Marquesas Islands.