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  • Paul Gauguin
    June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903
  • Where Are You Going - Paul Gauguin was a leading Post-Impressionist painter. His bold experimentation with colouring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential exponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.
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  • Paul Gauguin
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  • 1893
    Oil on canvas
    92.5 cm (36.42 in.) x 73.5 cm (28.94 in.)
    The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation.

    Tahiti was for Gauguin the embodiment of that primitive and unspoiled life of which he dreamed, of natural harmony and simplicity. He intially spent two years in Tahiti before returning to Paris for a short time. This work dates from that first period in Oceania, when the artist was still more concerned with the external attributes of the exotic world full of mystery, so unlike Europe. The impressions of the colours and vegetation, the appearance and rituals of the Tahitians, gave the artistic much material to work with.

    An everyday episode in the islanders' life is here turned into the embodiment of the eternal rhythm of life, of harmony between man and nature. Standing in the foreground is a Tahitian girl with a fruit in her hand - the Eve of that eastern Paradise.

    Rejecting the rules of traditional painting, and then of Impressionism, Gauguin went on to create his own individual style. The flat space, the rhythmic repetition of lines, forms and areas of colour, and the pure colours applied in broad masses combine to create a highly decorative effect.

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Other paintings by Paul Gauguin:

Tropical Vegetation
Tropical Vegetation
Washerwoman at Simonou Mill, Pont-Aven
Washerwoman at Simonou Mill, Pont-Aven
Women Bathing, Dieppe
Women Bathing, Dieppe
Thatched Hut under Palm Trees
Thatched Hut under Palm Trees
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin was a French postimpressionist painter whose lush color, flat two-dimensional forms, and subject matter helped form the basis of modern art.

Gauguin was born in Paris on June 7, 1848, into a liberal middle-class family. After an adventurous early life, including a four-year stay in Peru with his family and a stint in the French merchant marine, he became a successful Parisian stockbroker, settling into a comfortable bourgeois existence with his wife and five children.

In 1874, after meeting the artist Camille Pissarro and viewing the first impressionist exhibition, he became a collector and amateur painter. He exhibited with the impressionists in 1876, 1880, 1881, 1882, and 1886. In 1883 he gave up his secure existence to devote himself to painting; his wife and children, without adequate subsistence, were forced to return to her family. From 1886 to 1891 Gauguin lived mainly in rural Brittany (except for a trip to Panama and Martinique from 1887 to 1888), where he was the center of a small group of experimental painters known as the school of Pont-Aven. Under the influence of the painter Émile Bernard, Gauguin turned away from impressionism and adapted a less naturalistic style, which he called synthetism.

He found his inspiration in the art of indigenous peoples, in medieval stained glass, and in Japanese prints; he was introduced to Japanese prints by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh when they spent two months together in Arles, in the south of France, in 1888. Gauguin's new style was characterized by the use of large flat areas of nonnaturalistic color, as in Yellow Christ (1889, Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York).

In 1891, ruined and in debt, Gauguin sailed for the South Seas to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional." Except for one visit to France from 1893 to 1895, he remained in the Tropics for the rest of his life, first in Tahiti and later in the Marquesas Islands. The essential characteristics of his style changed little in the South Seas; he retained the qualities of expressive color, denial of perspective, and thick, flat forms.

Under the influence of the tropical setting and Polynesian culture, however, Gauguin's paintings became more powerful, while the subject matter became more distinctive, the scale larger, and the compositions more simplified. His subjects ranged from scenes of ordinary life, such as Tahitian Women, or On the Beach , to brooding scenes of superstitious dread, such as Spirit of the Dead Watching. His masterpiece was the monumental allegory Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, which he painted shortly before his failed suicide attempt. A modest stipend from a Parisian art dealer sustained him until his death at Atuana in Marquesas on May 9, 1903.

Gauguin's bold experiments in coloring led directly to the 20th-century Fauvist style in modern art. His strong modeling influenced the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and the later expressionist school.