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Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld's alter ego?

Part 1: How did Gauguin become a painter?

Paul Gauguin had one of the most extraordinary life histories of any artist. He was born in Paris, the son of a journalist whose mother was a Peruvian Creole. When his father died a year after his birth the family moved to Peru to live with a great uncle. They returned to France when Gauguin was 7 years old, and in 1865 he joined the Merchant Navy. From 1872 he worked successfully as a stockbroker, grew rich, married, and had five children.

However, his passion was for painting. In 1874 he met Pissarro and other members of the Impressionist Group. He bought their work and showed his own paintings in their last four exhibitions. In 1882 the stock market crashed and Gauguin decided to abandon his financial profession and support his family by painting. He was not successful, ands he had to sell his collection to support them. In 1886 he abandoned his family and devoted himself to a solitary bohemian lifestyle. He settled first in Brittany and became the linchpin of the Pont Aven School of artists and then went abroad to Panama and Martinique. In 1888 he spent a well documented few months with van Gogh in the South of France - a disastrous episode that led to Van Gogh’s madness.

In 1891 he went to Tahiti for the first time seeking a tropical paradise far removed from the corruption and artificiality which he thought had undermined modern European Society. However, it was a tainted paradise. Although fascinated by the culture and spiritual beliefs of the Tahitians, he saw that they were increasingly westernised and he witnessed the erosion of their culture by Christian missionaries. He also encountered snobbery among the colonial residents that was worse than that of Paris. He was granted repatriation to France in 1893 but returned there in 1895, infected with syphilis. In 1901 he settled at Dominica in the Marquesas, and it was there that he died.

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