Eugene Henri Paul Gaugin ( 1848 - 1903 )
Eugene Henri Paul Gaugin was born on June 7, 1848. His father, Clovis Gaugin was an influential French journalist and his mother was a woman with her roots in Peru. Three years after Gaugin's birth, an ebb in his father's
fortunes, brought about by political upheaval and the victory of Luis Napoleon in France, forced the Gaugin family into exile. Peru, being their only place of refuge outside of France, was their obvious destination. En route to
their destination, Clovis Gaugin fell seriously ill and died, even before the family reached Peru. Gaugin's remaining family continued in Peru for four years, after which they returned to France. The four years spent in Peru were to
have a tremendous impact on young Paul Gaugin.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Gaugin's interest in art bloomed extremely late. In his early years, he , like many others of his age, was certain that he was destined for adventure. It was this quest for adventure that eventually led Gaugin to the French Merchant navy at the age of 17. He spent six years in the merchant navy, traveling from one port to another, gathering images and experiences that would serve him well later in life. In 1867 however, Gaugin's mother passed away. This experience changed his life -- this once free bird's wings were suddenly clipped -- and Gaugin found himself employed as a stockbroker under the auspices of Gustave Arosa, his guardian. It was under Arosa that Gaugin's interest in art grew. Arosa was a wealthy man with a good eye and a keen interest in art. His collection boasted many jewels, including a Delacroix or two. Gaugin was slowly exposed to the world of art and found himself more and more attracted by it. The great financial crash of 1882 presented Gaugin with an opportunity to transform himself from a stockbroker to a full-time painter.
Gaugin's early attempts at creating professional pieces were touted by many to be crude. In the world of the drearily
savvy and glib, crudeness was not necessarily a bad thing. It was what attracted the eye of Camille Pissarro towards him. Pissarro saw what many others missed -- that Gaugin had been blessed with a quality as rare as it was invaluable, Distinctiveness. Far from toning down Gaugin's broad, uninhibited brush strokes Pissarro encouraged and cultivated them. Pissarro rightly saw Gaugin as a candidate for the newly established but already popular impressionist movement. In later years, Gaugin would cultivate his style and finally christen it 'synthesism'. It was after he returned from a trip to Martinique with Charles Laval that Gaugin finally found his niche. Synthesism was his distinction -- the practice of using bold conflicting colors, broadly painted with outline that were strong and permeable to color at the same time. He called for simplicity to harbor complexity, and not vice-versa. The style very much befitted the man, both were inherently conflicted.
Gaugin is probably best known for his paintings of polynesian women. Many critics have gone back to his roots in the analysis of his choice of subjects. Gaugin spent many of his early years in Peru. The tropics seemed to have an indellible influence on his art work. His most famous work on the subject is ' Femmes de Tahiti [Sur la plage] (Tahitian Women [On the Beach]) ' which he painted in 1891.
Gaugin's religious paintings have also influenced the art world profoundly. One of his most famous is Le Christ Jaune, or the yellow Christ. This was painted in 1889 and now rests at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY . Another famous religious painting was 'Vision After the Sermon, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel' , painted in 1888. It now rests in the National gallery of Scotland.