EscapeThe secret fantasy of every hen-pecked husband is to escape to some sunbathed island in the South Pacific and there to frolic merrily in the soft blue waters, lie back in the warm white sands, and eat mangos or some such other tropical fruit for the rest of his natural life. The French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin did just that over a hundred years ago. A stock broker by profession, and a weekend painter, he first tried living with his friend Vincent van Gogh. Clashing violently with the unstable genius, he vowed to escape civilisation. He left his wife and five children and fled first to Panama, then to Martinique, and finally to the French colony of Tahiti where his existence in the midst of the island's bare-breasted beauty transformed his art and won him a measure of success as the exotic masterpieces were shipped back to Paris for sale.
Sadly though, the "good life" was beyond his grasp. He attempted suicide and failed. Five years later, deeply in debt, he died of syphilis, a failure in his own eyes. Much of his debt he owed a wealthy plantation owner who was outraged that Gauguin had the nerve to die without having first settled his debt. In a strange fit of senseless stupidity, he burned Gauguin's small island cottage, and with it dozens of paintings worth, even then, thousands of Francs--and worth many millions of Francs today.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
23 October 1997