Paul Gauguin was born on 7 June 1848, in Paris. He lived in Lima, Peru, from 1851 to 1855 and joined the merchant navy in 1865, travelling around the tropics until 1871. Gauguin later worked as a stockbroker’s clerk in Paris, spending his free time painting, and would meet Camille Pissarro in 1874. Gauguin exhibited with the Impressionists in 1880, 1881, and 1882, but didn’t fully commit to painting until 1884, having moved his family to Copenhagen. Gauguin, meanwhile, would remain in Paris.


Gauguin met Edgar Degas in 1885, a friendship that would last the artist’s lifetime. In 1886, he met Vincent Van Gogh in Paris, and Charles Laval and Émile Bernard in Pont-Aven. Gauguin travelled to Martinique and Panama with Laval in 1887, seeking “exotic” subject matter – drawing upon “primitive” cultures for inspiration would consume much of his career. Gauguin would soon meet Paul Sérusier and, together with Bernard, develop the Synthetist way of painting – the reduction of subjects to simple forms outlined with dark contours – which would be embraced by the Parisian Symbolist literary circle. Gauguin would organise an exhibition of Symbolist work at the Café Volpini, Paris, in 1889.


In 1891, Gauguin auctioned his paintings to raise money for a voyage to Tahiti. His trip would last two years until he was forced to return to Paris due to illness and lack of money. He would write a travelogue, titled Noa Noa, documenting his stay with fictional flourish (first published 1901). At the behest of Edgar Degas, Paul Durand-Ruel would hold an exhibition of Gauguin’s work on his return, though the reception was mixed. He would return to Tahiti in 1895, quitting France for good, settling in an artist’s colony near Papeete. Gauguin would continue to paint, though due to his physical ailments and financial issues would attempt to take his own life having completed his self-anointed masterpiece, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA).


Gauguin would move to the Marquesas Islands in the Autumn of 1901, settling in Atuona, Hiva-Oa. Gauguin was productive in the final years of his life, having signed an agreement with Ambrose Vollard circa 1900 guaranteeing a monthly stipend in return for twenty-five unseen paintings per year. Gauguin died in Atuona on 8 May 1903.


Gauguin’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Kunstmuseum Basel; Musée Van Gogh, Amsterdam; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon; the Courtauld Institute of Art, London; the Tate Collection, London.


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