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Eugene Henri Paul Gaugin, June 7, 1848 (Paris, France); died May 8, 1903 (Atuona, Hiva Oa, French Polynesia)

Post-impressionist painter and engraver with a love of the exotic; idealized visions of Polynesian culture; use of bright color and bold outlines.

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, but after the death of his journalist father, he spent his childhood years with his half-Peruvian mother in Lima living in his uncle's house. The family later returned to France to live in Orleans, but the memory of warmer climes and of South America had a profound influence on the artist's work. By 1872, after having spent five years in the merchant navy, Gauguin was a successful stockbroker in Paris. A year later he married Mette Sophie Gad from Denmark, with whom he had five children. Gauguin later abandoned his young family in Copenhagen in order to persue his artistic goals. His guardian Gustave Arosa had introduced him to art, nurtured his knowledge and enthusiasm, and consistently encouraged his practice of painting as an amateur in his spare time. In June 1874, Gauguin visited the first Impressionist Exhibition and met the artist Camille Pissarro, who also encouraged his artistic pursuits. By 1885, Gauguin had lost his job as a banker but had become a dominant figure in the artistic and intellectual circles in Paris. He had shown a landscape painting at the official Paris Salon and some works with the impressionists and thus became a full-time painter. Before long, penniless and disillusioned by his lack of popular success, Gauguin looked for a more carefree life in the village of Pont-Aven in rural Brittany. By 1888, working alongside like-minded artists such as Emile Bernard, his work departed from its impressionistic style and became more expressive. Experimenting with bolder outlines, expressive shapes, and unnatural, bright colors, Gauguin produced images of mystical and idealized visions of rural people in local costumes, including his The Vision of the Sermon (1888). The painting also demonstrates the increasing influence of Japanese prints and rustic pottery decoration in his work. Soon Gauguin was looking for more exotic and primitive sources for his paintings. Disillusioned by his western European lifestyle, he traveled to Tahiti in search of ancient and indigenous inspiration. Gauguin spent the last years of his life in Oceania, where suffering from depression, he created idealized visions of Polynesian culture.

To know: In 1888, van Gogh invited Gauguin to come and live with him in his Yellow House. Having long cherished the idea of an artists' colony, in anticipation of the visit, van Gogh decorated Gauguin's room with four now-famous paintings of sunflowers. The stay only lasted nine weeks - the two artists did not get along and the tension mounted. It culminated in the dramatic events of December 24 when van Gogh cut off a piece of his ear in a state of mental turmoil.

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