Paul Gauguin’s Controversial Life, Art, and Death

Paul Gauguin Picture

Paul Gauguin was a very influential artist in the post-impressionism period. Like Vincent van Gogh, he was never truly appreciated until after death. Paul Gauguin’s life was controversial.

Paul Gauguin is considered one of the best Post- Impressionism artists of all time. He is best known for many of his artwork about French Polynesia. The life of Paul was also riddled with controversy in the way and manner in which he lived and died.

About Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848. He was born during the time of the revolutionary upheavals that were in Europe. As his father was a journalist, his family needed to flee to France.

In 1850 Paul’s father and mother, with his sibling, decided to go to Peru, so his father could hopefully continue his career as a journalist. Luckily, his father died because of a heart attack en-route, so his mother Alene arrived in Peru as a widow with an 18-month-old Paul and his two 1/2-year-old sisters Marie.

Paul had a privileged and ideal childhood in Peru with nursemaids in servants. But in 1850, that all changed due to some Peruvian civil unrest, so Alene returned to France with her children.

Paul was educated in France and eventually ended up as a merchant marine. He joined the French navy and traveled worldwide; in 1871, he returned to Paris and secured a job as a stockbroker. When he was just 23 years old, he became a successful businessman and remained successful for the next 11 years.

When he was working as a stockbroker, he married his first wife, a danish woman Mette-Sophia Gad in 1873. Over the next ten years, they had five children.

In 1880 the Paris stock market crashed, and Paul’s earnings deteriorated distinctly, so he decided to pursue painting art full-time; in 1884, he moved with his family to Copenhagen.

The Siesta (1892) by Paul Gauguin

Art and The Break Up of His Family

After 11 years of marriage, his family life fell apart when Paul was painting full-time. He returned to Paris in 1885 after his wife and her family asked him to leave because they said he had renounced the values they shared. His last physical contact with his family was in 1891, and his wife eventually broke with him in 1894.

Nafea Faaipoipo
When Will You Marry?
by Paul Gauguin

Gauguin and Van Gogh And The Yellow House

Many people know Paul Gauguin as the artist who lived with Vincent van Gogh. In 1888 in a yellow house in Southern France, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin shared a house as post-impressionist painters.

The two-story yellow house where they once lived no longer exists, but it has been immortalized several times in paintings by van Gogh including the yellow house 1888 and the bedroom he also painted in 1888.

Van Gogh’s dream was to establish what he called the studio of the south; this would be a place where artists could live and collaborate with fellow painters while they went out to study the surrounding countryside. Paul Gauguin accepted Vincent van Gogh’s invitation because he was promised financial support from the art dealer’s brother Theo. At that time, Theo was an influential art dealer in Paris.

Thie relationship between Gauguin and Van Gogh was trouble from the very beginning. For Paul Gauguin, it was not so much about having an artistic collaboration to receive the financial support from Theo, Vincent Van Gogh’s brother.

In this house, due to the stressful relationship between these two artists, Van Gogh mutilated and cut off his left ear in a fit of rage; he also threatened Paul Gauguin. Gauguin swiftly got on a train to Paris, and the two never saw each other again though they did correspond some.

Merahi metua no Tehamana (1893) Tehaʼamana Has Many Parents or The Ancestors of Tehamana by Paul Gauguins
Merahi metua no Tehamana (1893) Tehaʼamana Has Many Parents or The Ancestors of Tehamana by Paul Gauguins

Gauguin in French Polynesia and his death

Paul Gauguin spent a lot of time in French Polynesia. He is probably most well known for saturated colors and vivid depictions of life in the French Polynesia islands.

French Polynesia also showed Gauguin’s controversial sexual side. Paul Gauguin was thought by many to be a pedophile as he had several adolescent lovers and three or more child, brides. He was known to give syphilis to at least three of these brides during his time in Polynesia.

Paul Gauguin used many adolescent women in Polynesia as both models and mistresses. In 1891 before he was officially divorced from his first wife, he married Teha’amama on his first trip to Tahiti. By 1893, they were separated. Eventually, he returned to France.

In 1895 he decided to go back to Tahiti again when he had a relationship with Pahura, who was just fourteen and a half years old when they started their sexual relationship. He fathered two children with her, their daughter died in infancy, and the son survived.

Gauguin wanted to live in the Marquesas, but Pahura refused to go and leave her family behind. So Gauguin went by himself to Marquesas. Gauguin’s son was raised in Tahiti by Pahura.

Gauguin moved to Marquesas in 1901. While in Marquesas, Gauguin took another young girl named Vaeoho or Marie-Rose; she was only fourteen years old at that time.

In 1902 when Vaeoho was seven months pregnant, she decided to go back to her home to give birth to her baby so she could be around family and friends. She gave birth to their daughter but never returned to live with Gauguin.

Due to his syphilis, Gauguin had sores all over his body that required daily cleaning and care. Vaeoho essentially became both his mistress and nursemaid; it must have been hard work for a young girl who was also pregnant.

Paul Gauguin was in declining health and extreme pain. He was using morphine and died alone on the 8th of May 1903. As he did not have a will, many of his artwork, papers, and other things in Polynesia were auctioned off or destroyed.

In Polynesia, he is buried at the Catholic Calvary Cemetery (Atuona Hiva’ Oa).

Gauguin was a very controversial figure for his art and especially for the kind of life that he led. Besides the women, he had his mistresses all over France and French Polynesia; he had several children with women in Europe.

Like Van Gogh, Gauguin’s artwork started to be appreciated after his death. His paintings are now considered extremely valuable, and he is regarded as one of the great artists of the time. Gauguin also gave us some great insight into life in French Polynesia when he lived there.

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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Paul Gauguin’s Controversial Life, Art, and Death