Paul Gauguin, 1891

Foto: akg-images
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin is born on 7 June in Paris. His father Clovis is a Republican journalist, while his mother Aline Marie is the daughter of the painter André François Chazal and the Socialist writer Flora Tristan, a Spaniard with Peruvian roots. Paul has an older sister, Marie.

Louis Napoléon’s coup d’état causes the Gauguin family to leave France and to emigrate to Peru. The father, who suffers from heart disease, dies during the sea voyage.

Aline and the two children live with a well-to-do great uncle in Lima. At the start of the civil war in Peru, the family returns to France and stays with an uncle in Orléans.

Paul is sent to boarding school because his mother has to work to support the family. In 1861 Aline moves to Paris, where she works as a seamstress. Gauguin follows in 1862 but returns to Orléans in 1864 for his last year of grammar school.  

Gauguin signs up as a trainee officer in the merchant navy and in 1866, by which time he is a second lieutenant, he embarks on a round-the-world journey during which he learns of his mother’s death.

He becomes a sailor in the French navy, doing his military service and travelling right up to the Polar Circle.

Disappointed by his experiences, Gauguin ends his naval career and gets a job at Banque Bertin in Paris, where he works as an investment advisor while simultaneously speculating successfully on the Stock Exchange. He starts painting and drawing in his free time. Gauguin becomes acquainted with Impressionist painting and attends a private art school, the Colarossi Academy. 

Marries Mette-Sophie Gad, a Danish woman who has been working as a nanny in Paris.

Birth of Emile, the first of the couple’s five children. Aline (*1877), Clovis (*1879), Jean-René (*1881) und Pola (*1883) are born in the years that follow. Gauguin gets to know Camille Pissarro.

A painting by Gauguin is accepted for the Salon d’Automne and he rents a studio in Montparnasse in Paris. He creates his first sculptures.

Degas and Pissarro invite Gauguin to participate in the fourth Impressionist exhibition. He continues to speculate successfully on the Stock Exchange, investing the proceeds in works by, among others, Pissarro, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, and Monet.

Gauguin, who is by now working in an insurance agency, participates in further Impressionist exhibitions. He spends the summer holidays in Pontoise, where he and Pissarro both paint and where he also meets Cézanne. He sells some works to the Galerie Durand-Ruel for the first time.

Gauguin gives up his job as an insurance agent in order to devote himself completely to painting. The Gauguins’ financial situation deteriorates and their social decline begins.

Gauguin moves to Rouen with his family in order to live more cheaply. The hope that his paintings might sell better there is disappointed and, at Mette’s urging, he and his family move to Copenhagen to live with her parents. Gauguin works unsuccessfully as the representative of a linen company.

He has his first exhibition in Copenhagen, which closes after a few days. Gauguin quarrels with his parents-in-law and, taking his young son Clovis with him, moves back to Paris, where they are forced to live in poverty.

In search of a new naturalness, Gauguin moves to Brittany where he lives and works in the artists’ colony in Pont-Aven. He creates his first ceramic works during this period. In mid-October he returns to Paris, where he meets Vincent Van Gogh. He starts thinking about a journey to the tropics.

Mette takes Clovis back to Copenhagen. In April Gauguin travels to Panama and Martinique with his friend Charles Laval, doing several paintings and drawings while he is there. In November he returns to Paris.

Gauguin spends most of the year in Pont-Aven, working together with other painters, who acknowledge and admire him as a teacher. He moves away from Impressionism, developing the innovative painting style known as “Synthetism”, which leads to his first distinctive masterpieces. In the autumn, he joins Van Gogh in Arles in order to work with him there. In December, following their dramatic quarrel, Gauguin goes back to Paris.

In February Gauguin returns to Brittany, where he stays until the end of the year, dividing his time between Pont Aven and Le Pouldu. He creates his first graphic works. In May, during the World Exhibition, he exhibits some of his works in the Café des arts in Paris.

Gauguin prepares to auction his paintings in order to finance his emigration. 

The money earned from auctioning his paintings at the Hôtel Drouot enables him to travel to the South Seas. In March he goes to Copenhagen to say goodbye to his family. After a farewell party with his painter friends, Gauguin leaves Paris at the end of March. In April he sets sail from Marseilles for Tahiti, where he arrives in June. Together with the young Polynesian woman Teha’amana, he lives in modest circumstances in the village of Mataiea. Tahiti does not prove to be the “paradise” Gauguin had yearned for but he nonetheless creates many of his most important paintings and sculptures there.

In the spring Gauguin suffers a heart attack and has to be taken to hospital. He sends several pictures to Europe for exhibitions but his financial situation deteriorates. 

Completely penniless, Gauguin persuades the government to repatriate him free of charge to France, where he arrives in Marseilles in August. A small legacy enables him to rent an apartment in Paris. During this period, he creates further important works, not just paintings and sculptures but also woodcuts. His exhibition in Henri Durand-Ruel’s gallery is a failure. Together with Charles Morice, he starts preparing for the publication of his autobiographical story Noa Noa, which appears in 1897 in La Revue blanche.

Gauguin spends most of the year in Brittany. He breaks an ankle in a fight and has to spend two months in hospital. On returning to Paris, he discovers that his mistress, a Javanese dancer called Annah, has ransacked his studio, leaving only his pictures. 

In February the second auction of his works takes place at the Hôtel Drouot. The sale is a disaster. Disappointed, Gauguin sets sail from Marseille in July on his second journey to Polynesia. He arrives in Tahiti in September and settles on the west coast. He again creates a large number of masterpieces.

Gauguin lives with a young Tahitian woman called Pauʼura. In the summer he has to return to hospital, presumably to undergo treatment for syphilis. 

Gauguin’s daughter Aline dies, causing the definitive break with his wife Mette. Following further heart attacks, he suffers from increasingly poor health. Gauguin tries to commit suicide by taking arsenic and is admitted to hospital. He recovers only very slowly from the after-effects.

To earn money, he takes the position of draughtsman in the Land Registry in Papeete. 

Pau’ura gives birth to their son Emile. Gauguin founds a satirical monthly entitled Le Sourire and writes for a newspaper. His support for the cause of the Maori gets him into trouble with the colonial authorities and the Church.

A contract with the Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard enables Gauguin to live from his art for the first time. 

In search of new inspiration and lower living costs, Gauguin moves in September to the Marquesas island Hiva Oa, around 1,500 km to the east of Tahiti, where he creates his last major works. He builds his hut Maison du jouir and again cohabits with a young woman. Renewed conflict with the colonial authorities follows. He paints only rarely and becomes increasingly addicted to alcohol. 

Gauguin’s poor health makes him think about moving to Spain. 

In March Gauguin is sentenced to a fine and imprisonment for having libelled the government. On May 8, before starting to serve his sentence, he dies alone in his hut in Atuona. He is buried the next day in the Catholic cemetery in Hiva Oa.




Paul Gauguin
1848 - 1903

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