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b. 1848, Paris; d. 1903, Marquesas Islands
Paul Gauguin was born on June 7, 1848, in Paris and lived in Lima, Peru, from 1851 to 1855. He served as a merchant marine from 1865 to 1871 and traveled in the tropics. Gauguin later worked as a stockbroker’s clerk in Paris but painted in his free time. He began working with Camille Pissarro in 1874 and showed in every Impressionist exhibition between 1879 and 1886. By 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, where he unsuccessfully pursued a business career. He returned to Paris in 1885 to paint full-time, leaving his family in Denmark.
In 1885 Gauguin met Edgar Degas; the next year he met Charles Laval and Emile Bernard in Pont-Aven and Vincent van Gogh in Paris. With Laval he traveled to Panama and Martinique in 1887 in search of more exotic subject matter. Increasingly, Gauguin turned to primitive cultures for inspiration. The following year in Brittany he met Paul Sérusier and renewed his acquaintance with Bernard. As self-designated Synthetists, they were welcomed in Paris by the Symbolist literary and artistic circle. Gauguin organized a group exhibition of their work at the Café Volpini, Paris, in 1889, in conjunction with the World’s Fair.
In 1891 Gauguin auctioned his paintings to raise money for a voyage to Tahiti, which he undertook that same year. Two years later illness forced him to return to Paris, where, with the critic Charles Morice, he began Noa Noa, a book about Tahiti. Gauguin was able to return to Tahiti in 1895. He unsuccessfully attempted suicide in January 1898, not long after completing his mural-sized painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? In 1899 he championed the cause of French settlers in Tahiti in a political journal, Les Guêpes, and founded his own periodical, Le Sourire. Gauguin’s other writings include Cahier pour Aline (1892), L’Espirit moderne et le catholicisme (1897 and 1902) and Avant et après (1902), all of which are autobiographical. In 1901 the artist moved to the Marquesas, where he died on May 8, 1903. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1906.