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Summary Article: Gauguin, (Eugène Henri) Paul (1848–1903)
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

French post-Impressionist painter. Going beyond the Impressionists' concern with ever-changing appearances, he developed a heavily symbolic and decorative style characterized by his sensuous use of pure colours. In his search for a more direct and intense experience of life, he moved to islands in the South Pacific, where he created many of his finest works. Among his paintings is The Yellow Christ (1889; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York State).

Born in Paris, Gauguin spent his childhood in Peru. After a few years as a stockbroker, he took up full-time painting in 1883 and became a regular contributor to the Impressionists' last four group exhibitions 1880–86. In the period 1886–91 he spent much of his time in the village of Pont Aven in Brittany, where he concentrated on his new style, Synthetism, based on the use of powerful, expressive colours and boldly outlined areas of flat tone. Influenced by Symbolism, he chose subjects reflecting his interest in the beliefs of other cultures. He made brief visits to Martinique and Panama 1887–88, and in 1888 spent two troubled months with Vincent van Gogh in Arles, Provence. He lived in Tahiti 1891–93 and 1895–1901, and from 1901 in the Marquesas Islands, where he died. It was in Tahiti that he painted one of his best-known works, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897; Museum of Fine Art, Boston). Gauguin has touched the modern imagination as an escapist from a sophisticated civilization, but the new life he gave to colour was his great legacy to modern painting. His life is vividly recorded in his letters, journals, and the poetical fragment of autobiography Noa-Noa.

The son of a journalist and a mother of Spanish-Peruvian origin, he was taken as a child to Peru, and after the death of his father and his mother's return to France, entered the merchant service. After the war of 1870 he took to business in a stockbroker's office in Paris. He began to paint in his spare time, being influenced by Pissarro and the Impressionists, and gave up family and financial career to devote himself to painting 1883, aged 35. He went to Pont-Aven in Brittany 1886, seeking solitude, and 1888 he made his brief and calamitous stay at Arles with van Gogh, after which he went back to Brittany. At Pouldu he was now the centre of a group, and produced some of his best works, but he set sail for Tahiti 1891 and from 1895 lived permanently in the South Pacific, in poverty, ill health, and isolation, but leaving pictures of ‘a riot of light and vegetation’ and a gentle Polynesian people. Simplified design and an emotional use of colour distinguish the works of his Brittany period, such as The Yellow Christ and Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (Glasgow). In Tahiti and the Marquesas his already distinctive style took on a more exotic colour. The White Horse (Louvre), Riders on the Shore (Niarchos Collection), and many Tahitian figure groups show his feeling for a primal simplicity of design combined with colour of ‘unsurpassed liberty’.

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Gauguin, (Eugène Henri) Paul

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Gauguin, Paul The White Horse

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