Paul Gauguin Danielle Arnold L. Scott Roberts Art Appreciation 11 November 2011 Paul Gauguin Like so many artists one studies, the life of Paul Gauguin was filled with internal struggles on daily matters and beliefs. Gauguin was not dealt an easy life from the very beginning. Born to French journalist and half Peruvian mother, Gauguin came to know the cruelty of life at a very young age. In 1851, he and his family moved to Peru due to the climate of the period. On the voyage to Peru, his father died; leaving him with his mother and sister to survive on their own.
The family lived in Peru for four years and during that time, Gauguin came under the influence of certain imagery that would affect the rest of his life. His family then moved back to France where Gauguin excelled in academic studies. He went on to serve two years in the navy and then became a stockbroker. He married a woman by the name of Mette Sophie Gad, and proceeded to have five children. (“Paul Gauguin”). Gauguin always enjoyed art in its many forms and soon purchased his own studio to show off Impressionist paintings.
He moved his family to Copenhagen to continue being a stockbroker, but felt as if he was to pursue the life of an artist full time. He moved back to France to follow his passion for art, leaving his family behind. Just like many artists, he suffered from depression and had several suicide attempts. Gauguin soon became very frustrated with the art of the 1800’s and sailed to the tropics to escape life. He then used what he saw there as inspiration for many of the works that he produced. In 1903, he got in trouble with the government and was sentenced to jail for a short time.
At the young age of 54, Gauguin died of syphilis, probably contracted from the natives in Tahiti. Gauguin left a rather large impact on the world of art. He rubbed shoulders with some of the most world renown French artists. His biography states, “[Gauguin was] the first artist to systematically use these [Primitivism] effects and achieve broad public success” (“Paul Gauguin”). He created some very successful paintings such as “Fragrant Earth,” “Barbaric Tales,” “The Loss of Virginity,” “Yellow Christ,” and “Tahitian Women with Flowers. All of these paintings have specific Gauguin signatures on them in style, color, subject, and reality. Gauguin lived in the time of Impressionist art. This art movement was mainly lead by Paris based artists. At first, Gauguin embraced the essence and characteristics of Impressionism. The early works of Gauguin, as John Gould Fletcher tells us in his book, have disappeared. However, there have been descriptions of his early works by Felix Feneon (Fletcher 44). These descriptions prove and show that Gauguin was already miles ahead of Impressionism and would become a very promising and influential leader in the next movement of art.
While the art of his time was characterized, by small, visible brush strokes that allowed colors to harmonize and blend together to create different and changing qualities of light of ordinary subject matters, Gauguin put his own interpretation of Impressionism. His tones were very separated from each other, creating a new way at painting landscapes. Fletcher states, “Gauguin was treating landscape at this period already as a synthesis, a decorative whole. . . not as an exercise in the analysis of atmosphere vibration” (Fletcher 45).
People did not appreciate the new beginnings of this Post- Impressionism movement of art lead by Gauguin. This did not stop Gauguin at all. He continued on in finding new theories and creating his own tradition that went against the old decorative tradition. Wright and Dine share, “Gauguin was not content with the landscapes of civilization. He wanted something more elemental – scenes where an unspoilt and untamed nature gave birth to a race of simple and colourful character. He felt the need of harmonizing his people with their milieu” (Wright and Dine 300).
Thus, Gauguin sought an entire new movement of art and found his inspiration in Tahiti. By using vivid colors that popped out and a thick of application of paint, Gauguin began to open the world to Post-Impressionism where real life was recorded through geometric forms. Ultimately, this lead to the Synthetist movement of art. Along with a few colleagues, this movement was created to synthesize the appearance of natural forms, the feelings of the artist on the subject matter, and the purity of line, color, and form (Wright and Dine 190). Gauguin also paved the way to Primitivism in his later years.
Through the exaggerated body proportions and stark contrasts of color, Gauguin helped the return to the pastoral (“Paul Gauguin”). All of Gauguin’s paintings share similar characteristics. After Gauguin’s experience in Tahiti, he made the natives his main subject matter. Full of bright and bold colors, these women are placed in their natural surroundings with their womanly nature being exposed and exalted. Through his paintings, the truths about these women are revealed and their beauty proclaimed through the bold colors and contrasts and dark, defining lines. The beauty and popularity of Gauguin’s paintings are not just skin-deep.
To truly understand the meanings and symbolism of the paintings, one must understand the man who held the brush. In his biography “Noa, Noa,” one comes face to face with a man who held such high dreams yet never achieved them. Every painting of Gauguin’s was almost a poem laced with symbolism of life, faith, and death. In Gauguin’s Paradise Lost, Wayne Anderson quotes Gauguin in saying, “In a way, I work like the Bible, in which the doctrine announces itself in a symbolic form, presenting a double aspect, a form which first materializes the pure idea in order to make it better understandable . . this is the literal superficial, figurative, mysterious meaning of a parable; and then the second aspect which gives the spirit of the former sense. This is the sense that is not figurative any more, but the formal, explicit of one of the parable” (Anderson 8). Gauguin always tried to veil his symbolism within his paintings. To the untrained eye and mind, his symbolism falls on blind eyes. However, those who are trained in his ways of symbolism appreciate the tension between the romantic sensibility and the dark drama of romantic primitivism.
The emotions conveyed through his works all vary depending upon the nature and subject of the particular piece. He does have a central theme in all of his paintings and even some of his carved work. He wishes to conjure ideas of divinity and question the aspects of humanity in order to leave one with a sense of mystery and wonder (Anderson 19). The colors Gauguin uses pulls one into a life of bright and bold contrasts and tones. Someone how Gauguin uses definitive black lines that leave room for imagination in finishing the story that is told on the canvas.
Gauguin was an island when it came to mentors. He did not feel the need to imitate any kind of art. If his art was imitative of any artist, it was because he had not been able to freely convey his emotions and arrive as his refined instincts (Anderson 29). Many of his artistic peers did reach out to Gauguin and try to influence his art. When he was younger, he met Camille Pissarro. These two worked together as part of an Impressionist group. For the longest time, Gauguin accepted and practice the styles of Manet, Renoirs, Monets, Cezannes, and Pissarro.
Until he moved and stayed to Pont-Aven and met Emile Bernard and became a part of the Pont-Aven school. With the influence of artists, Charles Laval, Maxime Maufra, Paul Serusier, Charles Filiger, Jacob Meyer de Haan, Armand, Seguin, and Henri de Charmalliard, the birth and movement of Synthetism where bold colors were used for super spiritual subjects came about. (Fletcher 50). However, Gauguin always had a horrible temper and resulted in turning his friends into borderline enemies especially those who still clung to the Impressionist art forms and traditions.
For two weeks, Van Gogh and Gauguin painted together. Their relationship was a rather weird one. Fletcher comments on this in saying, “For Van Gogh the future only held the liberating spiritual worship of the sun, which was to raise his art to its highest pitch of lyric ecstasy and to destroy the brain that had created it. For Gauguin the future held a long and stoic struggle . . . that left . . . his work only a broken fragment of what he had dreamed” (Fletcher 55). Consequentially, their art reflected these two different paradigms.
Yet it was due to Van Gogh that Gauguin began to realize that great art came from a great love of life – and with that, Gauguin turned to religion, which fueled the majority of his art. Van Gogh’s art always hinted of a hope or centered upon a light. Where Gauguin used his subjects as the portrayal of light or the absence of light in the comparison to the dark and dense backgrounds. Over all, Gauguin’s works paved the way for new modern art to emerge. Some would say that Picasso was one of the most important people in the realms of abstract art.
However, Gaugin married together the worlds of abstract and representational art with his works on the Tahitian women and the natives. As Gauguin’s biography reports, Gaguin left a huge and notable connection to Arthur Frank Matthews in his intense use of color palette. His works influenced many other artists but does not leave a protege to assume his role of leader in Primitivism and Synthetism (“Paul Gauguin”). Paul Gauguin was a genius with both the brush and the chisel. He believed in art as a way of life and not a mere enjoyment. He rallied for a day when symbolism would reign and art would become a synthesis.
His works of the Tahitian natives and women opened up the world of naturalism and called back for a time where the pastoral would once again be enjoyed. Works Cited Andersen, Wayne. Gauguin’s Paradise Lost. The Viking Press Inc. New York, New York. 1971. Print. Fletcher, John Gould. Paul Gauguin, His Life and Art. Nicolas L. Brown. New York. 1921. eBook. “Paul Gauguin Biography. ” Paul Gauguin – Complete Works. 2002-2011. 31 October 2011. Web. http://www. paul-gauguin. net/biography. html Wright, Williard Huntington and S. S. van Dine. Modern Painting, It’s Tendency and Meaning. John Lane Company. New York. 1915. eBook.