From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903) was a leading Post-Impressionist artist. Best known as a painter, his bold experimentation with colouring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential exponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.
Gauguin and Van Gogh
Gauguin's relationship with Van Gogh was rocky. Gauguin had shown an early interest in Impressionism, and the two shared bouts of depression and suicidal tendencies. In 1888, Gauguin and Van Gogh spent nine weeks together, painting in the latter's Yellow House in Arles. During this time, Gauguin became increasingly disillusioned with Impressionism, and the two quarreled. On the evening of December 23, 1888, frustrated and ill, Van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor blade. In a panic, Van Gogh fled to a local brothel. While there, he cut off the lower part of his left ear lobe. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to "keep this object carefully." Gauguin left Arles and never saw Van Gogh again. A few days later, Van Gogh was hospitalized.
The vogue for Gauguin's work started soon after his death. Many of his later paintings were acquired by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. A substantial part of his collection is displayed in the Pushkin Museum and the Hermitage. Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale; their price may be as high as $39.2 million US dollars.
Gauguin's posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a stunning and powerful influence on the French avant-garde and in particular Pablo Picasso's paintings. Picasso's friend the Spanish artist and collector Ignacio Zuloaga a friend of Emile Bernard as well, was also influenced by Gauguin.
In the autumn of 1906, Picasso made paintings of oversized nude women, and monumental sculptural figures that recalled the work of Paul Gauguin and showed his interest in primitive art. Picasso's paintings of massive figures from 1906 were directly influenced by Gauguin's sculpture, painting and his writing as well. The power evoked by Gauguin's work lead directly to Les Demoiselles D'Avignon in 1907.
According to Gauguin biographer David Sweetman, Picasso as early as 1902 became an aficionado of Gauguin's work when he met and befriended the expatriate Spanish sculptor and ceramist Paco Durrio (1875-1940), in Paris. Durrio had several of Gauguin's works on hand because he was a friend of Gauguin's and an unpaid agent of his work. Durrio tried to help his poverty-stricken friend in Tahiti by promoting his ouevre in Paris. After they met Durrio introduced Picasso to Gauguin's stoneware, helped Picasso make some ceramic pieces and gave Picasso a first La Plume edition of Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin. In addition to seeing Gauguin's work at Durrio's Picasso also saw the work at Ambroise Vollard's gallery where both he and Gauguin were represented.Concerning Gauguin's impact on Picasso John Richardson wrote,
The 1906 exhibition of Gauguin's work left Picasso more than ever in this artist's thrall. Gauguin demonstrated the most disparate types of art—not to speak of elements from metaphysics, ethnology, symbolism, the Bible, classical myths, and much else besides—could be combined into a synthesis that was of its time yet timeless. An artist could also confound conventional notions of beauty, he demonstrated, by harnessing his demons to the dark gods (not necessarily Tahitian ones) and tapping a new source of divine energy. If in later years Picasso played down his debt to Gauguin, there is no doubt that between 1905 and 1907 he felt a very close kinship with this other Paul, who prided himself on Spanish genes inherited from his Peruvian grandmother. Had not Picasso signed himself 'Paul' in Gauguin's honor.
Both David Sweetman and John Richardson point to the Gauguin sculpture called Oviri (literally meaning 'savage'), the gruesome phallic figure of the Tahitian goddess of life and death that was intended for Gauguin's grave, exhibited in the 1906 retrospective exhibition that even more directly led to Les Demoiselles. Sweetman writes, "Gauguin's statue Oviri, which was prominently displayed in 1906, was to stimulate Picasso's interest in both sculpture and ceramics, while the woodcuts would reinforce his interest in print-making, though it was the element of the primitive in all of them which most conditioned the direction that Picasso's art would take. This interest would culminate in the seminal Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."According to Richardson,
Picasso's interest in stoneware was further stimulated by the examples he saw at the 1906 Gauguin retrospective at the Salon d'Automne. The most disturbing of those ceramics (one that Picasso might have already seen at Vollard's) was the gruesome Oviri. Until 1987, when the Musée d'Orsay acquired this little-known work (exhibited only once since 1906) it had never been recognized as the masterpiece it is, let alone recognized for its relevance to the works leading up to the Demoiselles. Although just under 30 inches high , Oviri has an awesome presence, as befits a monument intended for Gauguin's grave. Picasso was very struck by Oviri. 50 years later he was delighted when [Douglas] Cooper and I told him that we had come upon this sculpture in a collection that also included the original plaster of his cubist head. Has it been a revelation, like Iberian sculpture? Picasso's shrug was grudgingly affirmative. He was always loath to admit Gauguin's role in setting him on the road to primitivism.
The Japanese styled Gauguin Museum, opposite the Botanical Gardens of Papeari in Papeari, Tahiti, contains some exhibits, documents, photographs, reproductions and original sketches and block prints of Gauguin and Tahitians. In 2003, the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center opened in Atuona in the Marquesas Islands.
Paul Gauguin's life inspired Somerset Maugham to write The Moon and Sixpence. It is also the subject of at least two operas: Federico Elizalde's Paul Gauguin (1943), and Gauguin (a synthetic life) by Michael Smetanin and Alison Croggon. Déodat de Séverac wrote his Elegy for piano in memory of Gauguin. Mario Vargas Llosa has also based his 2003 novel The Way to Paradise on Gauguin's life.
Paul Gauguin is referred to in Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Calvin is seen walking past his mother, shouting "Paul Gauguin once said, 'Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?'" Then, a couple of panels over, Calvin returns and asks, "Who the heck is Paul Gauguin anyway?"
Gauguin has been sainted by the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, a modern revival of Gnosticism.
List of paintings by Paul Gauguin
- For a comprehensive list of paintings by Paul Gauguin, please go to List of paintings by Paul Gauguin