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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Paul Gauguin

Mix Master
About Mr.B

Paul Gauguin : June 7,1848-May 8,1903...France

"An artist holds an exhibition of his works once in his life and he is judged, but that must be all and even then I think it is better to hold the exhibition on his death."
~Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin is the leader of "Symbolism". He was a master of using symbols to represent his opinions, beliefs, and the society as a whole.

Gauguin began his life in Peru. His French father was a newspaper editor and took a job in Peru but died in the trip across the ocean. Once out of school he spent a nearly five year stint in the French Merchant Marine, Paul began to dabble in art. Upon his return to France, Gustave Arosa, businessman and art collector, was a family friend who had agreed to oversee the young man after his mothers death in 1867. His daughter Marguerite Arosa, who was only sixteen when he came to live with them, agreed to give him painting and drawing lessons. He was selected to enter the Salon show in 1876. After serving his country, and receiving a large inheritance from his grandfather in Peru, he took up working in investments and selling insurance. He began to seriously paint in 1873. Ten years later, he quit his job and pursued his artist career full time. “Love of my art is preoccupying me too much for me to be a good employee in the business world where dreamers are of no use, and on the other hand I have too large a family and a wife incapable of living in poverty. ” Paul and his wife, Mette Gad, had five children (Emil, Aline, Clovis, Jean, and Paul Rollon). Paul would also collect an additional five illegitimate children from four different affairs. Paul left his family with Mette to travel, study, and be productive in 1885. Although he became a professional artist, he greatly disliked academically trained artists because their raw instinct was replaced with information. “Where does the execution of a painting come from and where does it end?” In those early years he was traveling with his son Clovis for companionship. During a cold winter storm, Clovis got quite sick. This was largely due to poor living conditions. This was the last time Mette would allow him to care for the children for any length of time. He grew restless with European life and wanted to explore. In 1887 he ventured out to the tropics. He and fellow artist Charles Laval sailed to Panama where they worked on the Panama Canal before moving on to Martinique in the West Indies. Due to illness and little money, Paul returned to Paris, France with paintings of this unique land.

In Paris, Paul began to show works at the Galleries owned by Adolphe Goupil, managed by art dealer, Theo van Gogh. As a friendship grew between Theo and Paul, a conversation began in early 1888 that would send Paul to live with Theo’s brother, Vincent van Gogh. Vincent wanted to develop an artist colony in the Southern city of Arles, France. Paul would be the colony director. Paul and Vincent were living together from October twenty-third through December of 1888. This was a productive but stressful experience for Paul. “Vincent and I find it absolutely impossible to live peacefully in each other’s company…He is a remarkable man of great intelligence for whom I have a high regard and whom I am sorry to leave, however, I repeat, it is essential. ”

As a painter, Gauguin had a flat application of rich colors. His broad flat treatment is a contrast to many art styles if the time. He knew his painting was good, but it was his originality that would truly make him distinct throughout time.

Throughout his career as an artist, Gauguin also worked in several forms of sculpture. Largely inspired by the works of the native peoples he encountered during his travels, he worked in diverse medias, but largely wood and clay. He worked in the ceramic studio of Ernest Chaplet. Often these sculptural works were utilitarian (canes, bowls, cups, etc.). One of the more known of those ceramic works was his Jug in the Form of a Head, Self-Portrait. Many things influenced the work, including Victor Hugo’s character in Les Misérables, Jean Valjean. Gauguin sees himself as the decapitated martyr of art. It is thought that the work has no ears as a tribute to Vincent van Gogh. Each of these works had an abstraction, an almost tribal quality about them. "Art is an abstraction: extract from nature while dreaming before it and concentrate more on creating than on the final result."

Jug in the Form of a Head, Self-Portrait
1889. Stoneware Ceramic with Glaze. 7 5/8 inches. Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen, Denmark.

In his Symbolist style, Gauguin created many paintings. One or the more popular is his The Yellow Christ (Le Christ Jaune). The landscape was not of an authentically holy place, but in the area of Trémalo in Brittany, France. The element that drove Gauguin to paint this work was not so much religion, but his admiration of the women of Brittany’s faith. Christ’s suffering is explained to them through their visions of a strong mind. Thus, this is a representation of their visions. He loved this region and a church in Pont-Aven still proudly displays a carved wooden crucifix that was made by Gauguin and given to the church. This carved work is nearly identical to the Christ figure in the painting. The face looks remarkably like the artist himself. It has also been clamed that he chose to paint the work with so many yellows as a gesture of respect toward Vincent van Gogh.

The Yellow Christ
1889. Oil on Canvas. 36 1/4 x 28 7/8  inches. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, USA.

Soon after the fallout with Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat and Gauguin develop as the young leaders of avant-garde art. Paul thought his civilization and art was in decline; he needed out. In 1891 he sets out for Tonkin (Vietnam) but ended up in Tahiti. Eventually, he would move in with a thirteen-year old native girl, Tehamana. She was his model as well as lover in this short lived “marriage.” He was so low on money; he had to paint on sack cloths by the end of his trip. That lack of money and illness, that had landed him in the hospital for coughing up blood, forced Paul to return to Paris in 1893 with some sixty paintings he had created. He began teaching in an informal art academy for money. He continued to roam France bragging about his adventures, love affairs, and carrying his pet monkey around. In 1985 he was diagnosed with syphilis and returned to Tahiti, where his “wife” Tehamana was remarried. In 1900, art dealer Ambroise Vollard gave him the deal he had dreamt of: Gauguin was to send a minimum of twenty-five painting, drawings, and other works each year in exchange for 300 francs a month and art materials. Disappointed by European advancements (like electricity) in Tahiti, that he moved to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands in September of 1901. Gauguin found comfort living with fourteen year old Vaeoho, who would eventually give birth to his youngest child. There he bought some land to build a hut. The support timbers for the hut were imported sequoia beams that he had carved into. People were a little disturbed by his relationship with Vaeoho and the community leaders were upset by his ideas and big mouth. He was accoused of libel and inciting anarchy. He was sentenced to three months in prison, which he appealed. The stress of it all was too much for him to take and he died of heart failure at the age of fifty-five.


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063