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Paul Gauguin was first a sailor, then a successful stockbroker in Paris. In 1874 he began to paint at weekends as a Sunday painter. Nine years later, after a stock-market crash, he felt confident of his ability to earn a living for his family by painting and he resigned his position and took up the painter’s brush full time. Following the lead of Cézanne, Gauguin painted still-lifes from the very beginning of his artistic career. He even owned a still-life by Cézanne, which is shown in Gauguin’s painting Portrait of Marie Lagadu. The year 1891 was crucial for Gauguin. In that year he left France for Tahiti, where he stayed till 1893. This stay in Tahiti determined his future life and career, for in 1895, after a sojourn in France, he returned there for good. In Tahiti, Gauguin discovered primitive art, with its flat forms and violent colours, belonging to an untamed nature. With absolute sincerity, he transferred them onto his canvas. His paintings from then on reflected this style: a radical simplification of drawing; brilliant, pure, bright colours; an ornamental type composition; and a deliberate flatness of planes. Gauguin termed this style “synthetic symbolism”.
own. 15. Fruit, 1888. Oil on canvas, 43 x 58 cm. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 19 16. The Yellow Christ, 1889. Oil on canvas, 113 x 92 cm, Narodni Gallery, Prague. 17. Hello, Mr Gauguin, 1889. Oil on canvas, 113 x 92 cm. Narodni Gallery, Prague. 20 21 18. Self-Portrait with the Yellow Christ, 1889. Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm. AlbrightKnox Gallery, Buffalo. 22 No doubt, it was with this aim in mind that Gauguin rented a house and workshop first from the ceramist and jeweller
or the Sulky Woman), 1891. Oil on canvas, 94.6 x 68.6 cm. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. 34 He had to change his brush for a spade to earn money for his passage – this time to Martinique which lured him with the same dream of a happy life, an opportunity to devote himself to painting, and of a family reunion. But in less than six months a fatal lack of money and tropical fever forced him to return to Paris. However Gauguin’s stay on Martinique turned out to be extremely important,
Earth), 1893. Oil on canvas, 112 x 62 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. 50 His meetings with the leading Symbolist poets, critics and theorists – Mallarmé, Mirbeau, Moréas, Aurier and Morice – and his participation in their literary discussions were a stimulating experience. At the same time, Gauguin was put on his guard, as it were, by the Symbolist literary aesthetics, and by the refinement of Parisian poets whose acute resentment of naturalism had led them away from reality and into an
vegetation. Such was his Exotic Eve (private collection, Paris), an antipode of the two versions of the sorrowful Breton Eve (private collection, New York; Marion Koegler McNay Art Institute, San Antonio) painted only a year earlier. That exotic Eve was a link between his former style of the Martinique period and his future Tahitian one. Having discussed his possible destination with his friends and rejected the idea of going to Tonking or Madagascar, Gauguin finally decided on Tahiti. An attempt
sketched characteristic poses, faces and groups of figures. One of the first portraits painted in Tahiti was Woman with a Flower (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen). 48. Mahana no atua (The Day of the God), 1894. Oil on canvas, 68.3 x 91.5 cm. Art Institute, Chicago. 59 60 Although both the artist and the model seem to have felt a certain constraint, the portrait is remarkable for its monumental simplicity. The arrangement of the figure on the surface, the subtle modelling of the head and