Paul Gauguin was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist. Gauguin was later recognized for his experimental use of colors and synthetist style that were distinguishably different from Impressionism. His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gauguin’s art became popular after his death. He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer. His bold experimentation with coloring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art, while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential proponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.
Gauguin was born in Paris. In 1850 his family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period. His father died on the voyage, leaving 18-month-old Paul, his mother, and sister. They lived for four years in Lima with Paul's uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Gauguin in his art. It was in Lima that Gauguin encountered his first art. His mother admired Pre-Columbian pottery, collecting Inca pots that some colonists dismissed as barbaric. At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France, moving to Orléans to live with his grandfather. Gauguin soon learned French, though his first and preferred language remained Peruvian Spanish, and he excelled in his studies. At 17, Gauguin signed on as a pilot's assistant in the merchant marine to fulfill his required military service. Three years later, he joined the French navy in which he served for two years.
In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. He became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for the next 11 years. In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad (1850–1920). Over the next ten years, they had five children. The same year, Gauguin began painting in his free time. He was leaving close to café frequented by the Impressionists. Gauguin also visited galleries frequently and purchased work by emerging artists. He formed a friendship with Pissarro who introduced him to various other artists. He showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882.
By 1884, Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he pursued a business career as a tarpaulin salesman. He returned to Paris in 1885, after his wife and her family asked him to leave. Like his friend Vincent van Gogh, with whom in 1888 he spent nine weeks painting in Arles, Paul Gauguin experienced many bouts of depression and at one time attempted suicide. He traveled to Martinique in search of an idyllic landscape and worked as a laborer on the Panama Canal construction. In 1887, after visiting Panama, Gauguin spent several months in Martinique, in the company of his friend the artist Charles Laval. At first, the 'negro hut' in which they lived suited him, and he enjoyed watching people in their daily activities. While in Martinique, he produced between 10 and 20 works and traveled widely. Gauguin, along with Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Émile Schuffenecker and many others, frequently visited the artist colony of Pont-Aven in Brittany. By the bold use of pure color and Symbolist choice of subject matter, the group is now considered a Pont-Aven School. Disappointed with Impressionism, Gauguin felt that traditional European painting had become too imitative and lacked symbolic depth. By contrast, the art of Africa and Asia seemed to him full of mystic symbolism and vigour. There was a vogue in Europe at the time for the art of other cultures, especially that of Japan (Japonism). He was invited to participate in the 1889 exhibition organized by Les XX. Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin's work evolved towards Cloisonnism. The Yellow Christ, often cited as a quintessential Cloisonnist work
In 1891, Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional". Gauguin left France again on 3 July 1895, never to return. His time away, particularly in Tahiti and Hiva Oa Island, was the subject of much interest both then and in modern times due to his alleged sexual exploits. He was known to have had trysts with several prepubescent native girls, some of whom appear as subjects of his paintings. In French Polynesia, toward the end of his life, sick and suffering from an unhealed injury, he got into legal trouble for taking the natives' side against French colonialists. In 1903 he was fined 500 francs and sentenced to three months in prison. At the second trial, Gauguin was fined 500 francs and sentenced to one month in prison. At that time he was being supported by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Suffering from syphilis, he died on 8 May 1903 of an overdose of morphine and possibly heart attack before he could start the prison sentence.
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