Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 - May 9, 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His bold experimentation with coloring led directly to the fauvist style of modern art.
Born Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin in Paris, France, he descended from Spanish settlers in South America and the viceroy of Peru, and spent his early childhood in Lima. After his education in Orléans, France, Gauguin spent six years sailing around the world in the Merchant Marine and then in the French Navy. Upon his return to France in 1870, he took a job as a broker's assistant. His guardian, Gustave Arosa, a successful businessman and art collector, introduced Gauguin to Camille Pissarro in 1875.
A successful stockbroker during week-days, Gauguin spent holidays painting with Pissarro and Cezanne. Although his first efforts were clumsy, he made visible progress. By 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, where he unsuccessfully pursued a business career. Driven to paint full-time, he returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family in Denmark. Without adequate subsistence, his wife and children were forced to return to her family.
Like his friend Vincent Van Gogh, with whom he spent nine weeks with in Arles painting, Paul Gauguin suffered from 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.
Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin evolved towards the manner he called Cloisonnism. In Yellow Christ (1889), often cited as a quintessentual Cloisonnist work, 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, i.e., two most characteristic principles of post-Renaissance painting were dispensed with.
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." He remained first in Tahiti and later in the Marquesas Islands for most of the rest of his life, returning to France only once. His works of that period are full of quasi-religious symbolism and compassion towards indigenous inhabitants of the islands. He is buried in the Atuona Cemetery, Atuona, Hiva-Oa, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia.
The vogue for Gauguin's work started very soon after his death. Many of his later paintings were acquired by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. Now a substantial part of his collection is displayed in the Pushkin Museum. Good Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale; their price may be as high as US$35 million. Paul Gauguin's life inspired Somerset Maugham to write The Moon and Sixpence.