June 7 – Happy Birthday, Paul Gauguin

Posted on June 7, 2014

Back in the olden days, many people were born in a small town or growing city, grew up there, took on an adult life and profession that was almost identical to their parents, married and raised families in that same town or city, and died there. Sure, some people traveled, learned foreign languages, changed careers, and broke off on their own unique path – but many, many people did not.

Paul Gauguin was one of the few who did.

And he started early! He moved from Europe to South America, and then back again, as a child!

Gauguin was born on this date in 1848 in Paris, France. His father was a journalist but was from a family of French market gardeners and greengrocers—the name Gauguin means walnut-grower—and his mother was from a Peruvian family with a feminist and socialist streak. When he was just one year old, the family left Paris to move to Peru, but Gauguin's father died on the voyage. At age 18 months old, Gauguin's family had shrunk to just him, his mother, and his sister.

Paul Gauguin lived for several years in Lima, Peru, with relatives. When Gauguin was seven, the family returned to France, where little Paul learned French and went to school. He served in the merchant marine and the navy, and at 23 he became a successful Parisian stockbroker. He developed a hobby, too: painting.

This 1888 painting is not as brightly
colored as many of Gauguin's later works.
When he married a Danish woman and had five kids, Gauguin moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he became a tarpaulin salesman.

But he was driven to make art.

And he didn't speak Danish.

And he was not a success in the tarpaulin biz.

Gauguin's marriage fell apart, and he moved back to Paris.

Gauguin had an amazing life as an artist living in Paris. He made friends with other artists, and he often painted with them. He visited an art colony with his artist friends. He even lived with Vincent van Gogh for nine weeks.

Still, Gauguin continued to travel and live in exotic places. In 1887, he visited Panama and then lived for a while in Martinique. He moved back to France for a while longer but then, in 1891, Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia: Tahiti, Hiva Oa Island, Punaauia, and Marquesas Island, where he eventually died. 

Gauguin's art is known for its use of colors and of symbols, and although his art wasn't much appreciated during his lifetime, it became highly regarded after his death. His art is considered Post-Impressionist and helped lead to modern art and Primitivism.

After serving in the armed forces and being a stockbroker and tarpaulin salesman, Gauguin became a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer.

And after living in Peru and France and Denmark, he lived on islands in the Caribbean and in the South Pacific.

What a life, huh?

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