Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903, French) was a post-impressionist painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist and writer who founded the style Cloisonnism and was known for his use of vibrant colors in the Synthetist style which led to Primitivism, characterized by exaggerated porportions, animal totems as well as geometric designs. Gauguin greatly influenced Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas. Born in Paris, his mother was Peruvian and in 1850 his family moved to Lima. His father died on the voyage leaving him, his mother and sister on their own. In later life, Gauguin would be influenced by Pre-Columbian pottery. His family returned to France when he was 7 years old. He entered a naval preparatory school and joined the French navy three years later. In 1871, he became a stock broker, and for the next 11 years he was very successful at this job. With the crash of the Paris stock market in 1882, he started to pursue painting full time. In 1873, he married Mette-Sophie Gad and over the next ten years had five children three of whom he outlived. After a conflict, Gauguin had his last communication with his family in 1891.
Through is friendship with Camille Pissarro he met other artists but when he rejected the pointalism of Seurat, his friendship with Pissarro fell by the wayside. Gauguin was drawn to the symbolism and mysticism of African and Asian art. Because of the influence of Japanese prints, his work evolved into Cloisonnism.
Gauguin was also acquainted with Van Gogh whom he spent some time with in 1888, until the relationship ended in a fight.
Edgar Degas greatly admired Gauguin’s work and became his most loyal supporter and remained his friend throughout his life. In contrast to Renoir, who mocked Gauguin’s work.
In 1891, Gauguin set sail for Tahiti, the first of several trips. This proved to be a very prolific period for him and one where he included the most cats on his canvases. The cat as a symbol of fertility, femininity and “good” (purity) ,since they are mostly white, are part of many of his works.
In 1897, he had a bad year plagued by debit, poor health and depression. Even so he produced what he termed his masterpiece Where Do we Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? At the end of the year and later admitted that he tried to kill himself after its completion.
W. Somerset Maugham wrote the novel The Moon and Sixpence based on Gauguin’s life.
Gauguin was buried in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery, Atuona.