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Gauguin, Paul (1848-1903)
by Scholes, Robert


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Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903)

Gauguin came to painting later in life. He was born in Paris in 1848 but lived with his mother in Peru (1851-55). On returning to France, aged 17, he became a sailor, travelling to Valparaiso and Rio de Janeiro. Later, in 1871, he settled down and entered the firm of a Paris stockbroker. His colleague, Émile Schuffenecker, encouraged him to paint on Sundays and these weekly excursions were the turning point in Gauguin's life.

Gauguin met Pissaro in 1875 and the older painter influenced the younger artist's use of colour. Initially Gauguin's work was close to the Impressionists in subject matter and colour scheme. He exhibited with the group five times and was one of the first collectors of Impressionism, but he was never truly an Impressionist. He became friendly with Van Gogh, and the two often painted together. Their styles remained very different, but both of them helped to define what became known as post-impressionism.

His travels to Brittany in 1886 and, a year later, to Martinique and Panama, had led him to be inspired by primitive arts and he looked for ideas in Buddhist temple sculptures, Japanese prints, medieval tapestries, folk art and the architecture of Breton Churches. His work became concerned with dreams, myths and visions, influenced partly by his time in Tahiti, where he moved in 1891. Here he painted some of his most spectacular works, but when they were shown in Paris (1893) they received an unenthusiastic reception. His bold and non-representational use of color, however, in these paintings, opened the way for Matisse and the Fauves.

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