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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist, who was not appreciated until after his death. Gauguin is now recognised for his experimental use of colour and the Synthetist style that were distinctly different from Impressionism. He spent the last ten years of his life in French Polynesia, and most of his paintings from this time depict people or landscapes from that region.

His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gauguin’s art became famous after his death. Gauguin was an essential figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer.

A Tour of Paul Gauguin’s Art

  • Vision after the Sermon
    • “Vision after the Sermon” by Paul Gauguin depicts a scene from the Bible in which Jacob wrestles an angel. It illustrates this indirectly, through a vision that the women see after a sermon in church. It was painted in Brittany, France, in 1888, where Gauguin focused increasingly on interpreting the religious subject matter in his unique personal way. Gauguin was moving away from naturalism towards a more abstracted, even symbolic, manner of painting. The tale of Jacob wrestling an angel is from Genesis in the Old Testament.

      The bold use of colour, shape, and line in this painting reflects the influence of the Japanese woodblock prints that Gauguin owned. While formal elements of Gauguin’s paintings reflect the impact of Japanese prints, his choice of subject and composition are uniquely his own. As Gauguin developed the idea of non-naturalistic landscapes, he applied large areas of flat colour to the piece. The red ground departs from the conventional representation of the landscape. In portraying the watching figures, Gauguin experiments with the distortion of shapes, exaggerating features. He uses sharp contour lines and not gradual shifts in tone. The brown trunk, black garments, white hats and red field are painted with minimal colour shading. Museum: Scottish National Gallery

  • Self Portraits by Paul Gauguin
    • Gauguin in front of his Easel
      • Self Portrait – Gauguin in front of his Easel by Paul Gauguin was painted in Denmark just before Gauguin decided to return to Paris. This painting is both sombre and defiant in mood and is the first of his many self-portraits. Painted as he was deciding that rather than remaining jobless in Copenhagen, he would return to Paris to pursue his art career.

        Examination of this painting with infrared light and radiographs has revealed that Gauguin made significant changes. Initially, he portrayed himself in profile and included reproductions of his paintings in the background. In the final version, he is in full profile, but depicted as left-handed, like his image in a mirror. He showed himself cramped in a small attic space and cold, with the lapels of his jacket tightly closed.  His eyes are looking towards another future. Museum: Kimbell Art Museum

    • Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ
      • Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ by Paul Gauguin was painted on the eve of Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti. He was virtually unknown at the time and abandoned by his wife, who had gone back to Denmark with their children. Gauguin was misunderstood and was having trouble obtaining an official mission to settle in the colonies.

        Gauguin’s stare expresses his burdens as well as his determination to pursue his art. In the background, he has included two works he had painted the previous year. On the left is his painting of “The Yellow Christ”, the image of sublimated suffering, which he painted in his likeness. Christ’s arm stretched above his head suggests a protective gesture. Museum: Musée d’Orsay

Paul Gauguin

Famous French Artist You Should Know

Paul Gauguin Quotes

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“I shut my eyes in order to see.”

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“In art, all who have done something other than their predecessors have merited the epithet of revolutionary; and it is they alone who are masters.”

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“We never really know what stupidity is until we have experimented on ourselves.”

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“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”

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“Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?”

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“Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.”

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“It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable colour to every object; beware of this stumbling block.”

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“Civilization is what makes you sick.”

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Reflections

  • Is Paul Gauguin depicting his own struggle with faith?

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“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”
– Paul Gauguin

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Photo Credit: Paul Gauguin [Public domain]

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