Paul Gauguin: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Paul Gauguin

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Paul Gauguin
Birth name Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin
Born 7 June 1848(1848-06-07)
Paris, France
Died 8 May 1903 (aged 54)
Atuona, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Field painting, engraving
Movement Post-Impressionism, Primitivism

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (French pronunciation: [ɡoɡɛ̃]; 7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His bold experimentation with colouring 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 exponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.[1][2]



Paul Gauguin, 1891, unknown photographer

Young life

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France to journalist Clovis Gauguin and half-Peruvian Aline Maria Chazal, the daughter of proto-socialist leader Flora Tristan. In 1851 the family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period. Clovis died on the voyage, leaving three-year old Paul, his mother and his sister to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima, Peru with Paul's uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Paul in his art.

At the age of seven, Paul and his family returned to France. They moved to Orléans, France to live with his grandfather. He soon learned French and excelled in his studies. At seventeen, Gauguin signed on as a pilot's assistant in the merchant marine to fulfill his required military service. Three years later, he joined the navy where he stayed for two years. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad. Over the next ten years, they had five children.

Early art career

Gauguin had been interested in art since his childhood. In his free time, he began painting. He also visited galleries frequently and purchased work by emerging artists. Gauguin formed a friendship with artist Camille Pissarro, who introduced him to various other artists. As he progressed in his art, Gauguin rented a studio, and showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882. Over two summer holidays, he painted with Camille Pissarro and occasionally Paul Cézanne.

By 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, where he pursued a business career as a stockbroker. Driven to paint full-time, he returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family in Denmark. Without adequate subsistence, his wife (Mette Sophie Gadd) and their five children returned to her family. Gauguin outlived two of his children.

In 1887, after visiting Panama, he spent several months near Saint Pierre 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.[3] However, the weather in the summer was hot and the hut leaked in the rain. He also suffered dysentery and marsh fever. While in Martinique, he produced between ten and twenty works (twelve being the most common estimate). While in Martinique, Gauguin traveled widely there and apparently came into contact with the small community of Indian immigrants, a contact that would later influence his art through the incorporation of Indian symbols. Gauguin, along with Emile Bernard, Charles Laval, Emile 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.

Influences: European, African and Asian art

Like his friend Vincent van Gogh, with whom in 1888 he spent nine weeks painting in Arles, Paul Gauguin experienced bouts of depression and at one time attempted suicide. Disappointed with Impressionism, he 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.

Cloisonnism and Synthetism

The Yellow Christ (Le Christ jaune)
1889, oil on canvas. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, USA

Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin evolved towards Cloisonnism, a style given its name by the critic Édouard Dujardin in response to Emile Bernard's method of painting with flat areas of color and bold outlines, which reminded Dujardin of the Medieval cloisonné enamelling technique. Gauguin was very appreciative of Bernard's art and of his daring with the employment of a style which suited Gauguin in his quest to express the essence of the objects in his art.

In The Yellow Christ (1889), often cited as a quintessential Cloisonnist work, the image was reduced to areas of pure colour separated by heavy black outlines. In such works Gauguin paid little attention to classical perspective and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of colour, thereby dispensing with the two most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting. His painting later evolved towards Synthetism in which neither form nor colour predominate but each has an equal role.

Tahiti, Polynesia, and death

Paul Gauguin, Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi), 1892, The Museum of Modern Art

In 1891, Gauguin, frustrated by lack of recognition at home and financially destitute, sailed to the tropics to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional." (Before this he had made several attempts to find a tropical paradise where he could 'live on fish and fruit' and paint in his increasingly primitive style, including short stays in Martinique and as a labourer on the Panama Canal construction, however he was dismissed from his job after only two weeks).

Living in Mataiea Village in Tahiti, he painted "Fatata te Miti" ("By the Sea"), "Ia Orana Maria" (Ave Maria) and other depictions of Tahitian life. He moved to Punaauia in 1897, where he created the masterpiece painting "Where Do We Come From" and then lived the rest of his life in the Marquesas Islands, returning to France only once, when he painted at Pont-Aven.

His works of that period are full of quasi-religious symbolism and an exoticized view of the inhabitants of Polynesia. In Polynesia, he sided with the native peoples, clashing often with the colonial authorities and with the Catholic Church. During this period he also wrote the book Avant et après (before and after), a fragmented collection of observations about life in Polynesia, memories from his life and comments on literature and paintings.

In 1903, due to a problem with the church and the government, he was sentenced to three months in prison, and charged a fine. At that time he was being supported by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard[4] He died of syphilis before he could start the prison sentence. His body had been weakened by alcohol and a dissipated life. He was 54 years old.

Gauguin died on May 8, 1903 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery (Cimetière Calvaire), Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.

Historical significance

Primitivism was an art movement of late 19th century painting and sculpture; characterized by exaggerated body proportions, animal totems, geometric designs and stark contrasts. The first artist to systematically use these effects and achieve broad public success was Paul Gauguin. The European cultural elite discovering the art of Africa, Micronesia, and Native Americans for the first time were fascinated, intrigued and educated by the newness, wildness and the stark power embodied in the art of those faraway places. Like Pablo Picasso in the early days of the 20th century, Gauguin was inspired and motivated by the raw power and simplicity of the so-called Primitive art of those foreign cultures.

Gauguin is also considered a Post-Impressionist painter. His bold, colorful and design oriented paintings significantly influenced Modern art. Gauguin's influence on artists and movements in the early 20th century include Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain, Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, among others. Later he influenced Arthur Frank Mathews and the American Arts and Crafts Movement movement.

John Rewald, an art historian focused on the birth of Modern art, wrote a series of books about the Post-Impressionist period, including Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gaugin (1956) and an essay, Paul Gaugin: Letters to Ambroise Vollard and André Fontainas (included in Rewald's Studies in Post-Impressionism, 1986), discusses Gaugin's years in Tahiti, and the struggles of his survival as seen through correspondence with the art dealer Vollard and others.

Gauguin and Van Gogh

Gauguin's relationship with Van Gogh was rocky. Gauguin had shown an early interest in Impressionism, and the two shared bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies. In 1888, Gauguin and Van Gogh spent nine weeks together, painting in the latter's Yellow House in Arles. During this time, Gauguin became increasingly disillusioned with Impressionism, and the two quarrelled.


The vogue for Gauguin's work started soon after his death. Many of his later paintings were acquired by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. A substantial part of his collection is displayed in the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage. Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale; their price may be as high as $39.2 million US dollars.

Gauguin's posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a stunning and powerful influence on the French avant-garde and in particular Pablo Picasso's paintings. Picasso's friend the Spanish artist and collector Ignacio Zuloaga a friend of Emile Bernard as well, was also influenced by Gauguin.

In the autumn of 1906, Picasso made paintings of oversized nude women, and monumental sculptural figures that recalled the work of Paul Gauguin and showed his interest in primitive art. Picasso's paintings of massive figures from 1906 were directly influenced by Gauguin's sculpture, painting and his writing as well. The power evoked by Gauguin's work lead directly to Les Demoiselles D'Avignon in 1907.

According to Gauguin biographer David Sweetman, Picasso as early as 1902 became an aficionado of Gauguin's work when he met and befriended the expatriate Spanish sculptor and ceramist Paco Durrio (1875-1940), in Paris. Durrio had several of Gauguin's works on hand because he was a friend of Gauguin's and an unpaid agent of his work. Durrio tried to help his poverty-stricken friend in Tahiti by promoting his ouevre in Paris. After they met Durrio introduced Picasso to Gauguin's stoneware, helped Picasso make some ceramic pieces and gave Picasso a first La Plume edition of Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin.[5] In addition to seeing Gauguin's work at Durrio's Picasso also saw the work at Ambroise Vollard's gallery where both he and Gauguin were represented.

Concerning Gauguin's impact on Picasso John Richardson wrote,

The 1906 exhibition of Gauguin's work left Picasso more than ever in this artist's thrall. Gauguin demonstrated the most disparate types of art—not to speak of elements from metaphysics, ethnology, symbolism, the Bible, classical myths, and much else besides—could be combined into a synthesis that was of its time yet timeless. An artist could also confound conventional notions of beauty, he demonstrated, by harnessing his demons to the dark gods (not necessarily Tahitian ones) and tapping a new source of divine energy. If in later years Picasso played down his debt to Gauguin, there is no doubt that between 1905 and 1907 he felt a very close kinship with this other Paul, who prided himself on Spanish genes inherited from his Peruvian grandmother. Had not Picasso signed himself 'Paul' in Gauguin's honor.[6]

Paul Gauguin, Oviri, 1894/95

Both David Sweetman and John Richardson point to the Gauguin sculpture called Oviri (literally meaning 'savage'), the gruesome phallic figure of the Tahitian goddess of life and death that was intended for Gauguin's grave, exhibited in the 1906 retrospective exhibition that even more directly led to Les Demoiselles. Sweetman writes, "Gauguin's statue Oviri, which was prominently displayed in 1906, was to stimulate Picasso's interest in both sculpture and ceramics, while the woodcuts would reinforce his interest in print-making, though it was the element of the primitive in all of them which most conditioned the direction that Picasso's art would take. This interest would culminate in the seminal Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."[7]

According to Richardson,

Picasso's interest in stoneware was further stimulated by the examples he saw at the 1906 Gauguin retrospective at the Salon d'Automne. The most disturbing of those ceramics (one that Picasso might have already seen at Vollard's) was the gruesome Oviri. Until 1987, when the Musée d'Orsay acquired this little-known work (exhibited only once since 1906) it had never been recognized as the masterpiece it is, let alone recognized for its relevance to the works leading up to the Demoiselles. Although just under 30 inches high , Oviri has an awesome presence, as befits a monument intended for Gauguin's grave. Picasso was very struck by Oviri. 50 years later he was delighted when [Douglas] Cooper and I told him that we had come upon this sculpture in a collection that also included the original plaster of his cubist head. Has it been a revelation, like Iberian sculpture? Picasso's shrug was grudgingly affirmative. He was always loath to admit Gauguin's role in setting him on the road to primitivism.[8]

The Japanese styled Gauguin Museum, opposite the Botanical Gardens of Papeari in Papeari, Tahiti, contains some exhibits, documents, photographs, reproductions and original sketches and block prints of Gauguin and Tahitians. In 2003, the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center opened in Atuona in the Marquesas Islands.

Paul Gauguin's life inspired Somerset Maugham to write The Moon and Sixpence. It is also the subject of at least two operas: Federico Elizalde's Paul Gauguin (1943), and Gauguin (a synthetic life) by Michael Smetanin and Alison Croggon. Déodat de Séverac wrote his Elegy for piano in memory of Gauguin. Mario Vargas Llosa has also based his 2003 novel The Way to Paradise on Gauguin's life.

Paul Gauguin is referred to in Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Calvin is seen walking past his mother, shouting "Paul Gauguin once said, 'Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?'" Then, a couple of panels over, Calvin returns and asks, "Who the heck is Paul Gauguin anyway?"

Gauguin has been sainted by the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, a modern revival of Gnosticism.[citation needed]

List of paintings



See also

Further reading and sources

  • Danielsson, Bengt, Gaugin in the South Seas, New York, Doubleday and Company, 1966.
  • Mathews, Nancy Mowll, Paul Gauguin, an erotic life, Yale Univ. Press 2001
  • John Rewald, History of Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin, 1956; revised edition: Secker & Warburg, London 1978
  • John Rewald Studies in Post-Impressionism, published by Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1986
  • John Rewald, History of Impressionism, 1946
  • John Rewald, Camille Pissarro: Lettres à son fils Lucien Pissarro, 1943
  • Paul Gauguin, with Charles Morice Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin, 1901
  • Paul Gauguin's Intimate Journals, trans. (1923) Van Wyck Brooks [Dover, 1997, ISBN 0-486-29441-2
  • Danielsson, Bengt (1965). Gauguin in the South Seas. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 
  • Richardson, John. A Life Of Picasso, The Cubist Rebel 1907-1916. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. ISBN 978-0-307-26665-1
  • Sweetman, David. Paul Gauguin, A life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN 0-684-80941-9


  1. ^ Prints by Paul Gauguin, ArtServe: Australian National University
  2. ^ Woodcut and Wood Engraving, The Free Dictionary
  3. ^ Philip Vickers, "Martinique in Gauguin's Footsteps", Contemporary Review, June 1, 1997.
  4. ^ John Rewald, Paul Gauguin-Letters to Ambroise Vollard and André Fontainas, in Studies in Post-Impressionism, publ. Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1986, pp. 168-215
  5. ^ Sweetman, 563
  6. ^ Richardson 1991, 461
  7. ^ Sweetman, 562-563
  8. ^ Richardson 1991, 459

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Self-Portrait with Yellow Christ (1889). A time will come when people will think I am a myth, or rather something the newspapers have made up.

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-06-071903-05-09) was a French Post-Impressionist painter.



  • La peinture est le plus beau de tous les arts; en lui se résument toutes les sensations, à son aspect chacun peut, au gré de son imagination, créer le roman, d'un seul coup d'œil avoir l'âme envahie par les plus profonds souvenirs; point d'effort de mémoire, tout résumé en un seul instant. — Art complet qui résume tous les autres et les complète. — Comme la musique, il agit sur l'âme par l'intermédiaire des sens, les tons harmonieux correspondant aux harmonies des sons; mais en peinture on obtient une unité impossible en musique où les accords viennent les uns après les autres, et le jugement éprouve alors une fatigue incessante s'il veut réunir la fin au commencement. En somme, l'oreille est un sens inférieur à celui de l'œil. L'ouïe ne peut servir qu'à un seul son à la fois, tandis que la vue embrasse tout, en même temps qu'à son gré elle simplifie.
    • Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. In it, all sensations are condensed, at its aspect everyone may create romance at the will of his imagination, and at a glance have his soul invaded by the most profound memories, no efforts of memory, everything summed up in one moment. Complete art which sums up all the others and completes them. Like music, it acts on the soul through the intermediary of the senses, the harmonious tones corresponding to the harmonies of sounds, but in painting, a unity is obtained which is not possible in music, where the accords follow one another, and the judgement experiences a continuous fatigue if one wants to reunite the end and the beginning. In the main, the ear is an inferior sense to the eye. The hearing can only grasp a single sound at one time, whereas the sight takes in everything and at the same time simplifies at its will.
      • Notes Synthéthiques (ca. 1884-1885), ed. Henri Mahaut, in Vers et prose (July-September 1910), p. 52; translation from John Rewald, Gauguin (Hyperion Press, 1938), p. 161
Breton Calvary: The Green Christ (1889)
  • Life at Papeete soon became a burden.

    It was Europe, the Europe which I had thought to shake off — and that under the aggravating circumstances of colonial snobbism, and the imitation, grotesque even to the point of caricature, of our customs, fashions, vices, and absurdities of civilization.

    Was I to have made this far journey, only to find the very thing which I had fled?

    • Noa Noa (1893) [Dover, 1985, ISBN 0-486-24859-3], p. 2
  • D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?
    • Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
    • Title of painting, 1897
Fata te miti (1892), In order to produce something new, you have to return to the original source, to the childhood of mankind.
  • Many people say that I don't know how to draw because I don't draw particular forms. When will they understand that execution, drawing and color (in other words, style) must be in harmony with the poem?
    • Letter to Charles Morice (July 1901), from French Paintings and Painters from the Fourteenth Century to Post-Impressionism, ed. Gerd Muesham [Frederick Ungar, 1970, ISBN 0-8044-6521-5], p. 551
  • Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge — and has to content oneself with dreaming.
    • Avant et Après (1903), from Paul Gauguin's Intimate Journals, trans. (1923) Van Wyck Brooks [Dover, 1997, ISBN 0-486-29441-2], p. 2
Mahana no atua (1894)
  • Comment voyez-vous cet arbre? Il est bien vert? Mettez donc du vert, le plus beau vert de votre palette; — et cette ombre, plutôt bleue? Ne craignez pas la peindre aussi bleue que possible.
    • How do you see this tree? Is it really green? Use green, then, the most beautiful green on your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don't be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.
      • Said in conversation with Paul Sérusier as quoted by Maurice Denis, "L'influence de Paul Gauguin," in Occident (October 1903) and published in Du symbolisme au classicisme. Théories (1912), ed. Olivier Revault d'Allonnes (Paris, 1964), p. 51

The Writings of a Savage (1990)

An anthology of writing by Gauguin [Paragon House, ed. Daniel Guérin, trans. Eleanor Levieux, ISBN 1-55778-272-5]

Mme. Ginoux in the Cafe at Arles (1888). One may wonder if any painter in the last century put more meaning into his sense of color than Gauguin.
  • I must confess that I too am a woman and that I am always prepared to applaud a woman who is more daring than I, and is equal to a man in fighting for freedom of behavior.
    • Le Sourire (Tahiti, August 1899), p. xxvii
  • A great sentiment can be rendered immediately. Dream on it and look for the simplest form in which you can express it.
  • Nature has mysterious infinities and imaginative power. It is always varying the productions it offers to us. The artist himself is one of nature's means.
Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers (1888)
  • I am leaving in order to have peace and quiet, to be rid of the influence of civilization. I want only to do simple, very simple art, and to be able to do that, I have to immerse myself in virgin nature, see no one but savages, live their life, with no other thought in mind but to render, the way a child would, the concepts formed in my brain and to do this with the aid of nothing but the primitive means of art, the only means that are good and true.
    • Quoted in the interview "Paul Gauguin Discussing His Paintings" by Jules Huret, printed in L'Écho de Paris, (1891-02-23) p. 48
  • I am a great artist and I know it. It's because of what I am that I have endured so much suffering, so as to pursue my vocation, otherwise I would consider myself a rogue — which is what many people think I am, for that matter. Oh well, what difference does it make. What upsets me the most is not so much the poverty as the things that perpetually get in the way of my art, which I cannot carry out the way I feel and which I would carry out if it weren't for the poverty that is like a straitjacket. You tell me I am wrong to stay away from the artist[ic] center. No, I am right; I've known for a long time what I am doing and why I am doing it. My artistic center is in my brain and nowhere else, and I am strong because I am never thrown off-course by other people and because I do what is in me.
    • Original: Je suis un grand artiste et je le sais. C'est parce que je le suis que j'ai tellement enduré de souffrances. Pour poursuivre ma voie, sinon je me considérerai comme un brigand. Ce que je suis du reste pour beaucoup de personnes. Enfin, qu'importe! Ce qui me chagrine le plus c'est moins la misère que les empêchements perpétuels à mon art que je ne puis faire comme je le sens et comme je pourais le faire sans la misère qui me lie les bras. Tu me dis que j'ai tort de rester éloigné du centre artistique. Non, j'ai raison, je sais depuis longtemps ce que je fais et pourquoi je le fais. Mon centre artistique est dans mon cerveau et pas ailleurs et je suis fort parce que je ne suis jamais dérouté par les autres et je fais ce qui est en moi.
      • Letter to his wife, Mette (Tahiti, March 1892), pp. 53-54
  • A young man who is unable to commit a folly is already an old man.
    • Manuscript, known as "Cahier pour Aline" (ca. 1892-1893), p. 68
Tahitian Women on the Beach (1891), A young man who is unable to commit a folly is already an old man
  • Your Nordic blue eyes looked attentively at the paintings hanging on the walls. I felt stirrings of rebellion: a whole clash between your civilization and my barbarism.

    Civilization from which you suffer. Barbarism which for me is a rejuvenation.

  • In art, there are only two types of people: revolutionaries and plagiarists. And in the end, doesn't the revolutionary's work become official, once the State takes it over?
    • Letter published in Le Soir, (1895-04-25), p. 107
The Swineherd, Brittany (1888)
  • Copying nature — what is that supposed to mean? Follow the masters! But why should one follow them? The only reason they are masters is that they didn't follow anybody!
    • Quoted by Eugène Tardieu, "Interview with Paul Gauguin," L'Écho de Paris, (1895-05-13), p. 108
  • In order to produce something new, you have to return to the original source, to the childhood of mankind.
    • Quoted by Eugène Tardieu, "Interview with Paul Gauguin," L'Écho de Paris, (1895-05-13), p. 110
  • A time will come when people will think I am a myth, or rather something the newspapers have made up.
  • As I wanted to suggest a luxuriant and untamed type of nature, a tropical sun that sets aglow everything around it, I was obliged to give my figures a suitable setting.

    It is indeed the outdoor life — yet intimate at the same time, in the thickets and the shady streams, these women whispering in an immense palace decorated by nature itself, with all the riches that Tahiti has to offer. This is the reason behind all these fabulous colors, this subdued and silent glow.

    "But none of this exists!"

    "Oh yes it does, as an equivalent of the grandeur, the depth, the mystery of Tahiti, when you have to express it on a canvas measuring only one square meter."

    Very subtle, very knowing in her naïveté is the Tahitian Eve. The riddle hiding in the depth of her childlike eyes is still incommunicable to me.

    • Diverse Choses, notebook (1896 - 1898), p. 137
  • My eyes close and uncomprehendingly see the dream in the infinite space that stretches away, elusive, before me.
    • Original: Mes yeux se ferment pour voir sans comprendre le rêve dans l'espace infini qui fuit devant moi.
      • Letter to André Fontainas (March 1899), pp. 184-185
  • No one wants my painting because it is different from other people's — peculiar, crazy public that demands the greatest possible degree of originality on the painter's part and yet won't accept him unless his work resembles that of the others!
Nevermore (1897), It is extraordinary that anyone could put so much mystery into so much brightness.
  • You have long known what I have tried to establish: the right to dare everything; yet the difficulty I have had finding enough money to live on has been too great, and my capacities have not produced a very big result but the mechanism has got underway nevertheless. The public does not owe me anything because the pictorial work I have done is only relatively good, but the painters who benefit from that freedom today do owe me something.
    • Letter to Georges-Daniel de Monfreid (Marquesas Islands, October 1902), p. 214


  • How long have I been here? Henceforward for? I shall not know. For I have been traveling for too long. My bones too weary to remember my age. Hence, how long have I been here? Thou shalt never know.

About Paul Gauguin

We Shall Not Go to the Market Today (Te Matete), 1892, oil on canvas
  • Gauguin interests me very much as a man — very much. For a long time now it has seemed to me that in our nasty profession of painting we are most sorely in need of men with the hands and the stomachs of workmen. More natural tastes — more loving and more charitable temperaments — than the decadent dandies of the Parisian boulevards have. Well, here we are without the slightest doubt in the presence of a virgin creature with savage instincts. With Gauguin blood and sex prevail over ambition.
  • Œuvre étrangement cérébrale, passionnante, inégale encore, mais jusque dans ses inégalités poignante et superbe. Œuvre douloureuse, car pour la comprendre, pour en ressentir le choc, il faut avoir soi-même connu la douleur et l'ironie de la douleur, qui est le seuil du mystère. Parfois, elle s'élève jusqu'à la hauteur d'un mystique acte de foi; parfois, elle s'efface et grimace dans les ténèbres du doute. Et, toujours émane d'elle l'amer et violent arôme des poisons de la chair. Il y a dans cette œuvre un mélange inquiétant et savoureux de splendeur barbare, de liturgie catholique, de rêverie indoue, d'imagerie gothique, de symbolisme obscur et subtil; il ya des réalités âpres et des vols éperdus de poésie, par où Gauguin crée un art absolument personnel et tout nouveau; art de peintre et de poète, d'apôtre et de démon, et qui angoisse.
    • His art is strangely cerebral and passionate, uneven still, but poignant and superb in its very unevenness. A sorrowful work, for to understand it, to feel the shock of it, we ourselves must know sorrow and the irony of sorrow, which is the threshold of mystery. It sometimes rises to the height of the mystical act of faith; sometimes it obliterates itself and grimaces in the gloom of doubt. It always emanates the bitter and violent aroma of the poisons of the flesh. There is a dazzling and savory mixture of barbaric splendor, Catholic liturgy, Hindu reverie, Gothic imagery, and obscure and subtle symbolism; there are harsh realities and distraught flights into poetry, through which M. Gauguin creates an altogether new and personal art — the art of a painter and poet, of an apostle and demon, an art which instills anguish.
  • ll est extraordinaire qu'on puisse mettre tant de mystère dans tant d'éclat.
    • It is extraordinary that anyone could put so much mystery into so much brightness.
      • Stéphane Mallarmé, after seeing an exhibition of Gauguin's work in November 1893; cited by Gauguin at the heading of chapter I of Noa Noa (1893) and in a letter to André Fontainas (March 1899); also quoted in Charles Morice, Paul Gauguin (H. Floury, 1920; digitized by the University of Michigan, 2007), p. 220
  • What is he, then? He is Gauguin, the savage who hates the burden of our civilization, a sort of Titan who, jealous of the creator, makes his own little world in his spare time, a child who takes toys apart in order to build others from the pieces, one who denies and defies, who prefers to see the sky red rather than blue like the rest of us.
  • Jamais je n'ai voulu et je n'accepterai le manque de modelé ou de graduation. C'est un non-sens. Gauguin n'était pas un peintre, il n'a fait que des images chinoises.
    • I have never wanted and never will accept the lack of modeling or gradation: it's an absurdity. Gauguin was not a painter; he only made Chinese pictures.
      • Paul Cézanne, quoted in Émile Bernard, Souvenirs sur Paul Cézanne (Société des trente, 1912; digitized by University of Michigan Press, 2007), p. 35
  • I advised him to go to New Orleans, but he decided it was too civilized. He had to have people around him with flowers on their heads and rings in their noses before he could feel at home.
    • Edgar Degas, quoted in Ambroise Vollard, Degas: An Intimate Portrait (1927), translated by Randolph T. Weaver (Dover, 1986, ISBN 0-486-25131-4), p. 48
  • Gauguin's work is symbolic, and he himself is a myth. He rejected the values of bourgeois society and of a machine civilization. His gesture had its sordid side, but retrospectively it seems to have been appropriate, coming at a time when the world was preparing for annihilating wars. It was not a useful example: we cannot all go and live on South Sea islands, and, as I have said before in this connection, modern man carries his civilization like a pack on his back, and cannot cast if off. But he can nevertheless protest against the burden, and state the real values of life.

    So Gauguin did, in paintings that are symbols of eternal truths, images of great beauty and serenity.

    • Herbert Read, "Gauguin: Return to Symbolism," Art News Annual, XXV (1956)
  • The last thing that Bonnard and Vuillard and Matisse wanted to do was paint portentous allegories about the destiny of mankind, as Gauguin did.
    • John Russell, The Meanings of Modern Art (Museum of Modern Art, 1975, ISBN 0-870-70477-X ), p. 10
  • The popular fancy that Gauguin "discovered himself" as a painter in Tahiti is quite wrong. All the components of his work — the flat patterns of colour, the wreathing outlines, the desire to make symbolic statements about fate and emotion, the interest in "primitive" art, and the thought that color could function as a language — were assembled in France before 1891.
    • Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New (Random House, 1981; digitized 2007, ISBN 0-394-51378-9), p. 129
  • One may wonder if any painter in the last century put more meaning into his sense of color than Gauguin.
    • Robert Hughes, "Paul Gauguin," in Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists (Viking/Penguin, 1991, ISBN 0-394-58026-5), p. 152

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897)

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Simple English

Paul Gauguin
Birth name Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin
Born 7 June 1848(1848-06-07)
Paris, France
Died May 8, 1903 (aged 54)
Atuona, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Field painting, engraving
Movement Post-Impressionism, Primitivism

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (7 June 18488 May 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His bold tests with coloring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art, and the meaning of the subjects in his paintings helped create Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential user of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.[1][2]


  1. Prints by Paul Guaguin, ArtServe: Australian National University
  2. Woodcut and Wood Engraving, The Free Dictionary


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address