One of the most important Post-Impressionists was Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). He was born in Paris on June 7, 1848. Within a year, his family moved to Peru where his mother was from, then six years later, moved to Orleans, France. When he was 17, he started work on a merchant vessel and three years later, he joined the navy. Then when he was 23, he started working as a stockbroker on the stock exchange in Paris.
Gauguin started painting as a hobby in 1870, when he was 22. He met Camille Pissarro in 1874 and started spending time with the Impressionists, and exhibited in their last four exhibitions.
France’s stock market crashed in 1883, so Gauguin quit his ‘real’ job as a stockbroker and went to painting full time. He lived in various places in France and Europe and South America but always returned to Paris, until he finally stayed in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands after 1895.
He broke away from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism because he was no longer interested in painting things as they looked, but more in painting ideas and emotions. He became inspired by medieval and Egyptian sculpture, and ancient central and South American art, and started painting in bold blocks of colour with distinct outlines.
In 1888, he went to Arles to spend the winter with Van Gogh, but within two months, he was back in Paris. The two friends disputed and Van Gogh threatened him with a razor, and then cut off a bit of his own ear, so Gauguin left.
Returned to Paris, Gauguin became very involved in the symbolist movement. He painted in symbols, although the objects or people in his scenes look to be a pictorial representation, they actually have symbolic meaning, and are present in the painting for symbolic reasons.
Characteristic of a Gauguin painting, are strong, flat colours and bold outlines, as though painting stained glass or folk art. The colours are chosen for both decorative and expressive effect, and not necessarily to be realistic. Some people describe his paintings as ‘childlike’.
Gauguin’s best and most famous work was done after he moved to French Polynesia. He was much more interested in life here, as he felt the western world was too materialistic for its own good. You can see the influence of native art in his artwork.
Paul Gauguin died May 8th, 1903 virtually unknown and very poor. In 1906, his work was exhibited at the Autumn Salon in Paris and he subsequently and posthumously, became famous.