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Somerset Maughm's A Moon and Sixpence is about a man, Charles Strickland, who gives up his good life, including a wife and two children and a secure job, to seek a life as a painter. The character Charles Strickland and the events surrounding his life are loosely based on the real painter Paul Gauguin. Because I found the events of Strickland's life so riveting, I felt compelled to discover more about the real person Strickland was based on. Paul Gauguin himself was an extraordinary man who painted in the late 19th century. Webmuseum, Paris describes Gauguin as "one of the leading French painters of the Postimpressionist period, whose development of a conceptual method of representation was a decisive step for 20th century art." However, the events in his life are what makes Gauguin's story so remarkable.
The first part of Gauguin's life was uneventful and played no major part in formulating his desire to paint. Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848. He spent the first year of his life there, but in 1849, because of his father's political activities, his family was forced into exile. He spent his childhood growing up in Lima, Peru. In 1867, after his mother died, Gauguin was sent to live with Gustave Arosa back in France. It is during this time that he started collecting impressionist art and he himself started painting.
Gauguin became a wealthy stockbroker, married, and had five children. However, with the financial crash of 1882, he decided to quit his job entirely and paint full time. It was during this time that he severed ties with his wife Mette when she went back to her native land of Denmark taking their children with her. Many people cannot grasp the concept that a man who had such a successful happy life would give it all up to become an impoverished painter. Yet Gauguin believed so much in what he was doing that he persisted on giving up the pleasures of his former life and chose to live instead a life of poverty. In this life of poverty, though, he was able to paint.
Upon making this life changing decision Gauguin moved around France, spending brief periods of time in Rouen and Pont Avon, looking for work.
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Gauguin returned to France in 1888 where he stayed with another well known painter, Vincent Van Gogh. Though the two aspiring artists learned a lot from each other, they often fought. The argumentative relationship between the two led Van Gogh to cut his ear. It was during his stay with Van Gogh, Gauguin started to create his own style of painting. As Expo-shop.com explains, "His break with the Impressionist Movement came when he started painting 'Vision after the Sermon' where he was more concerned with the inner meaning of the subjects painted. This painting also marked the start of a new style in painting that became known as Symbolism." It was during this tumultuous stay with van Gogh that Gauguin truly started to flourish as a painter.
France, however, was not sufficient for Gauguin. He felt cramped and depressed. In 1891, he moved to Tahiti. From this point of his life until his death, not a great deal of information is known about his personal life. However, it was in this peaceful paradise that Gauguin discovered primitive art. He himself worked with it and used it in his painting. www.absolutarts.com describes the remainder of his life:
He spent the rest of his life in the South Pacific and his paintings show the influences of the native art of the South Pacific and other non-European styles. He believed that the renewal of Western art and civilization must come from native cultures. His art took on its final, simplified form with its intensified color and backgrounds reduced to rhythmically curved shapes.
In 1903, at the young age of 54, Gauguin died.
Paul Gauguin did great things with painting. He decided to go beyond the boundaries of impressionism and paint in an entirely new style. His life itself is a fascinating story because he literally went from a successful middle-class businessman to an impoverished artist struggling to survive. Though he himself died at a young age, his work survived to give viewers today the delightful pleasure of seeing his unique and colorful paintings. It is correct to say that Paul Gauguin led a truly remarkable life.
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"Gauguin, (Eugene-Henri-) Paul". Webmuseum, Paris. Online. 17 November.
"Paul Gauguin". Artcyclopedia. Online. 17 November.