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Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin
Biography



"Art is either a plagiarist or a revolutionary. "

Paul Gauguin was born during the 1848 revolution. He was a stockbroker with five children when, at thirty-five, he met artist Camille Pissarro, one of the central figures in the Impressionist movement. After this acquaintance Gauguin drastically veered away from his secure, bourgeois existence, giving up his job to become a devoted art collector and amateur artist. He first exhibited with the Impressionists, but later denounced their styles as superficial and affected. Like his sometime friend and idol, van Gogh, he was largely self-taught, but he had a much more pessimistic and cynical view of modern civilisation. In 1885 Gauguin abandoned his family, going first to paint in the rustic villages of Brittany and then, in 1891, to Tahiti. His restless pursuit of paradise took him back and forth from Brittany to Tahiti and finally to the Marquesas Islands, where he died in 1903. Although he took little from the art of his places of refuge, Gauguin was deeply interested in medieval, Japanese, and other non-Western, and presumably less decadent, arts. Like van Gogh, he lived in poverty and isolation and painted with little commercial success or acclaim.

Gauguin, like van Gogh and Cézanne, moved painting further away from its traditional representational foundations. He rejected the naturalistic conventions that had been part of Western painting since the Renaissance, and substituted a simplification of form and colour aimed at creating a newer and, according to him, purer and more personal vision of the world. Even subjects such as the Crucifixion, which had become standardised over centuries of representation, were rethought by Gauguin.

Large fields of flat colour - often florid and idiosyncratic pinks, greens, and yellows - describing simplified, abstract forms are characteristic of many of Gauguin's paintings. Both shape and colour make the image more immediate and more intense. Especially compelling are his mystical portraits of the Tahitians, who were already threatened by the modern world. These fascinating paintings are the work of a sophisticated artist striving for, and almost achieving, a sort of neo-primitivism, which includes personal symbolism and exotic motifs and colours. Gauguin, a visionary and rebel, whose interests centred on an internal rather than an external reality, was particularly important to the next generation of artists - especially to the haunting visions of Edvard Much, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele.

contributed by Gifford, Katya

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