Parau Api
What's new?
"Parau Api (What's new?)" - 1892 - Gemaldegalerie Neue Meister, Dresde, Germany

DEBUSSY - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1894)


Paul GAUGUIN was born in Paris in 1848 in a middle-class French family. He was of noble  hispano-Peruvian ascent by his mother, and his family being labelled "liberal" - his father worked for the organ of the Radical Party, the "National" newspaper, -, reached Peru in 1849 to escape repression from the "Party of the order".

His father dies during the travel, and Paul will return to Paris six years later with his mother and his sister. Of this early childhood in exile in Latin America , he will always keep a liking for travel and exoticism.


Self-portrait with yellow Christ

Private Collection


At the age of 17, he engages in the merchant marine. From this quay of Le Havre where Manet had embarked in 1848, as a sailor, Paul sees in his turn moving away the coasts of France. The destination is the same one : Rio de Janeiro. By finding back the continent of his childhood, the young sailor is happy. By the Magellan Strait, to Port-Famine, Paul goes on his father's grave, then moves to Panama, Polynesian islands, Indies. There, in 1867, he gets to know of his mother's death.


After franco-prussian war of 1870-71, Paul Gauguin has to start all over again. He will find a job as a stockbroker employee which he will keep until Stock Market crash of 1882. Gustave Arosa, a friend of his family that had become his tutor at his mother's death in 1867, will initiate Paul with painting. Arosa owned an important art collection, including works of Delacroix. Under his influence, Gauguin will become himself an amateur painter, then an art collector, buying Impressionist works.

He meets a young Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad, whom he marries in 1873. She will give him 5 children. Gauguin who was successful as a stockbroker settles into a comfortable bourgeois existence.


The Seine at the Pont d'Iéna,
snowy weather
Musée d'Orsay, Paris


With his friend Emile Schuffenecker, a co-worker and amateur painter too, he will paint in suburbs. At his beginnings Gauguin painted in the style of Corot, and will even be accepted at the official Salon of 1876.

In 1874, at Arosa's, he meets Pissarro, who will initiate him with Impressionist landscape and will give him the sense of pictorial composition.

He will take part thereafter from 1879 to 1886 in all Impressionist exhibitions, regularly seeing Pissarro, Manet, Renoir, Degas.



During a few years, Gauguin was going to follow in the wake of Impressionist movement. He will owe it his knowledge of plein-air light, the luminosity of his colors, and his independence with regard to conventions.

Throughout his hesitations, one finds his remarkable "Nude study or Suzanne sewing", which attracted considerable attention during the Impressionist show of 1881.

The setting and still life character of this painting point out Manet, the nude study and the sewing daily gestures betray the realistic vision of Degas, while the richness of the nuances of light and the blue and green shades on the naked skin bring this work closer to Renoir.


Nude study
or Suzanne sewing
Ny Carlsberg-Glyptotek
Copenhague, Danmark



After the Stock Market crash of 1882, he loses his job and decides "to paint everyday" and to devote himself to this art which he had been practising for a long time as a "talented weekend painter". His wife, without adequate subsistence was forced to return with her five children to her family in Denmark.

In July 1886 he accomplishes a first stay in Brittany. He settles for 3 months at the "Le Gloanec" board and lodging, in Pont-Aven. There he meets Emile Bernard.

On return to Paris, he meets Van Gogh for the 1st time in November 1886

Tropical vegetation, Martinique
Private Collection


In April 1887, he embarks with the painter Charles Laval for Panama, from where he will gain Martinique.

He lived there from June to October in a hut on a plantation, within 2 kilometers from Saint-Pierre.




On return to Paris, Gauguin will soon set out again at the beginning of 1888 to Pont-Aven, at the "Le Gloanec" board and lodging, where he will remain until October, date of his departure to Arles to paint with Vincent Van Gogh .


In Pont-Aven, Gauguin gave up Impressionism to work out a new theory, known as "synthetism".

His research went in the direction of a simplification of forms, that eliminates details to keep only essential forms, simplification obtained by use of thick contours and large flat areas of uniform color, as in his famous paintings "La belle Angèle" 1889 or "The yellow Christ" 1889.

Gauguin organized a group exhibition of Pont-Aven painters' works at the Café Volpini, Paris, in 1889, in conjunction with the World's Fair.

There several of his paintings wake up the enthusiasm of young painters who soon formed around Gauguin the School of Pont-Aven.


La belle Angèle
Musée d'Orsay, Paris



In 1891 Gauguin auctioned his paintings to raise money for a new voyage. The purchase by Degas of his painting "La belle Angele" allows Gauguin to leave this same year for Tahiti in order to flee "France civilized with excess" and “everything that is artificial and conventional” and to try a new experiment in the Tropics.


Devil's words
National Gallery of Art
Washington DC

There he is fascinated by the indolent charm of local beauties and will paint a paradisiac Oceania (which the arrival of Westerners had however already largely begun to destroy).

Gauguin then breaks with Western painting with unmatched freedom and naturalness, moving to a primitive style with an extraordinary invasion of colors (the purple and lilac ground of "Devil's words", the yellow wall behind the "Girl with a mango".


Illness forced him to return to Paris in 1894, where he will be disappointed by the mixed reception Parisian art critics give to his paintings from Oceania, and sets off again definitively to Tahiti in 1895.

Over there, loneliness and material distress will not prevent him from carrying out some of his more beautiful works where he retranscribes with concision and intensity his sensual and mystical vision of life .

His masterpiece there was the monumental allegory "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" (1897, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which he painted shortly before his failed suicide attempt in january 1898.

In 1901 the artist moved to the Marquesas Islands. It is in his hut baptized the "house of enjoying" that he died on May 8, 1903 in Hiva Oa, one the Marquesas Islands.

"Color which is vibration just as music", these words of Gauguin illustrate the so particular use he makes of pink, his increasingly sharp love for indigo and lemon-yellow, the depth of his ocher-colored reds, the wavering of green from high-pitched to bass tones, his dark harmonies, almost dull, torn by dissonances. One feels a desire to listen painting sound with all its power. One is amazed by it, one lets it sink in, one enjoys it.


A major retrospective of his work was held at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1906.

The work of Paul Gauguin  will strongly influence the Nabis and the Fauves