Paul Gauguin: Paris, Pont-Aven and Polynesia

Paul Gauguin: Paris, Pont-Aven and Polynesia
The release this month of the film Gauguin-Voyage de Tahiti, with Vincent Cassel of Black Swan fame in the lead role, coincides with a hugely important exposition of Gauguin’s works at the Grand Palais from 11th October through to 22nd January 2018. The exposition Gauguin L’alchimiste was organized in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, the Orsay Museum, and the Orangerie. This retrospective of 200 of Gauguin’s works of art– including 60 paintings, 30 ceramics, 30 sculptures in wood, 60 prints and 35 designs– is the first exhibition of its kind to study in depth the various creations of Gauguin. Gauguin’s life was a history in drama from his early departure, aged not yet two, from Paris to Peru to his death on Hiva Oa, a Polynesian island. He was born on the 7th June 1848 in Paris, the son of Clovis Gauguin and Aline Chazal. Two years later the family moved to Peru. Clovis unfortunately died on route and Aline with her two small children arrived in Peru a widow. They were welcomed with open arms by Aline’s paternal granduncle and for the next five years until the family fell from political favor, Paul led a privileged life. Once more back in France, Aline took work as a dress maker in Paris and Paul remained in Orléans with his beloved grandfather. Aged 14, Paul entered the Loriol Institute in Paris, a naval preparatory school before joining the Merchant Navy and traveling extensively. By 1871, Gauguin was back living in Paris and working as a stock broker at the Paris Bourse. He lived at 15, Rue de Bruyere in the 9th arrondissement where he became close friends with Pisarro and became deeply involved in the Impressionist movement exhibiting in several Impressionist exhibitions. He soon moved to the Vaugirard district to 8, Rue Carcel to a house with its own studio. Gauguin was by now a wealthy businessman and in 1873 married Mette-Sophie Gad, a young Danish woman. They had five children but when the Paris stock market crashed in 1882, Gauguin’s fortunes changed overnight. He decided to dedicate his life to art and exhibited once more in the 7th Impressionist exhibition with 11 paintings, a poster and a sculpture. Despite Gauguin’s ambition to be a full time artist, the family moved to Copenhagen. Gauguin did not speak Danish so it was hardly surprising that his attempt to become a tarpaulin salesman failed miserably. Common belief is that Gauguin callously abandoned his family when the marriage broke down, but there is evidence that Mette and her parents, dismayed that Gauguin could not keep her in the style they were accustomed to, told him to leave. (Gauguin saw Mette only once more in 1890 but love letters from Tahiti suggest a different aspect of Gauguin who was often portrayed as a drunken brute.) By 1885 Gauguin was back in Paris accompanied by his six year old son Clovis. Gauguin, impoverished, still managed to produce 19 paintings and exhibited in the 8th and last Impressionist exhibition. By now his close relationship with Pisarro had ended in bitterness and acrimony, although Degas was to remain both an admirer and friend throughout Gauguin’s life. The artist’s colony in Pont-Aven in Brittany was not only an inspirational place to be but was also cheap to live and Gauguin spent the summer of 1886 there. Degas’ influence on Gauguin can be recognised in Young Breton Boys Bathing but his own style was becoming more defined. Gauguin was starting to be disenchanted with Impressionism and admired Japanese art and a style of painting using flat areas of color known as Cloisonnism. The following year Gauguin visited Panama and then spent six months in Martinique in a native hut where despite contracting dysentery and marsh fever he produced enough loosely painted, brightly colored paintings to be accepted by the Arson Poitier gallery. It was here that Gauguin’s paintings were seen by Van Gogh and his art dealer brother Theo who purchased three of them. Van Gogh and Gauguin became close friends and Gauguin joined Van Gogh at his house in Arles for nine weeks. The relationship was to end famously and disastrously. On December 23rd 1888 after a violent argument, Gauguin left and Van Gogh sliced off his ear. After a successful auction of his paintings at the Hotel Drouot, Gauguin had enough funds to set sail for Tahiti on April 1st 1891. It was of course Gauguin’s years in Tahiti that were to finally crystallize his style and make him one of the most easily recognized, world famous artists he is today. His exuberant use of color, the sensual depictions of Tahitian girls and of the idyllic landscape of the islands, Gauguin claimed reflected the harmony of the universe. Pisarro, his one- time mentor, was unconvinced with Gauguin’s words believing him at heart someone who had never lost his capitalist streak and was simply cashing in on the Parisian bourgeois fondness of the ‘other’.  Criticisms of Gauguin were often harsher than even those of Pisarro. He was accused of self aggrandisement, self promotion and self invention; an alcoholic who was often brutish and violent. His teenage mistresses aged 13, 14 and 14 respectively were the sordid reality of his Tahitian ‘paradise’. Gauguin was consequently (and probably quite…

Lead photo credit : Self-Portrait with Portrait of Émile Bernard (Les misérables) 1888, Van Gogh Museum

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.