Yesterday was the anniversary of the birthday of Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin – he was born in Paris 7 June 1848. I’ve always liked his paintings – they are both simple and yet sophisticated. His story is one of a man who bucked the trend and found himself late in life – I can sort of identify with that having left a great job, a city life and moved to a new life in France to keep animals and learn how to cook and grow vegetables. I definitely can’t paint but I do love art.
Gaugin came late to painting after a well-paid career in a stockbroker’s office, was married with five children and to outward appearances was fairly settled. After 12 years of marriage, he abandoned his family, gave up the job and threw himself into painting. He left France and went travelling in more exotic climes such as Tahiti and French Polynesia. Beneath the veneer of civilisation and sophistication he had craved to break away and become a free spirit and indulge his primitive side. He rejected the increasingly intellectual feel that pervaded impressionist art of the time and preached that impressionists should “work madly and freely… don’t labour over your picture… dream over it”.
In this yearning to be free, indulge his wild side and to paint emotionally – he certainly seems to have been successful. He sailed to French Polynesia and there are tales of his sexual exploits with young girls, heavy drinking and a generally lurid lifestyle. (Okay – that bit’s definitely not like me if you’re wondering). Painter Maurice Denis said that Gaugin was “the unquestioned master who won our admiration by his talent, his fluency, his gestures, his physical strength, his harshness, his inexhaustible imagination, his very strong head for drink, his romantic bearing…’
His paintings took on a new look during this time and the themes, colours and construction changed from his earlier works. Sadly during his lifetime his work wasn’t appreciated quite as much as he was after he died in 1903. At an auction of his belongings shortly after he died, his sowing machine sold for more than one of his canvases.