Gauguin spent the first seven years of his life with his mother and great uncle in Peru. In 1855 his mother took him back to France where he attended boarding school. He joined the merchant marine when he was seventeen and began traveling around South America. When Gauguin's mother died in 1868, Gustave Arosa, an art collector and photographer, became his legal guardian. Arosa's collection included works by Corot (q.v.), Courbet (q.v.), Delacroix (q.v.), and the Barbizon painters, and it was he who would encourage Gauguin to start painting. In 1872 Arosa found a job for Gauguin at a brokerage firm, giving him financial security. The following year he married a Danish woman, Mette Gad. Gauguin had already started painting and sculpting in his spare time and first exhibited at the Salon in 1876 with a landscape.1 He was asked by Pissarro (q.v.) and Degas (q.v.) to participate in the fourth impressionist exhibition in 1879, where from then on he would exhibit regularly. Durand-Ruel began purchasing his paintings, and in turn Gauguin started to collect the works of his colleagues, such as Manet (q.v.) and Renoir (q.v.) and, in particular, Cézanne (q.v.) and Pissarro. He went to Pontoise in 1882, where he painted with Cézanne and Pissarro, who along with Degas continued to influence him at this period. In 1883 Gauguin decided to become a full-time artist. In 1884 he moved with his wife and children to Rouen and then to Copenhagen, but he failed to earn a comfortable living. He returned to Paris in 1886 and met ceramicist Ernest Chaplet (1835-1909), who introduced him to his métier. Gauguin distanced himself from impressionism and in 1888 worked in Pont-Aven with Émile Bernard (1868-1941), who had been experimenting with creating compositions using flat areas of color and dark outlines (cloissonism). Gauguin also studied Japanese prints and Indonesian art. The impact of these influences is evident in Gauguin's Vision after the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1888, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), so far removed from his earlier impressionist style. Succumbing to van Gogh's (q.v.) many requests, Gauguin agreed to travel to Arles and paint with the artist; their characters, however, proved incompatible. Theo van Gogh, who worked for Boussod Valadon & Cie, would in the meantime sell Gauguin's work. For the next two years, Gauguin traveled often around Brittany. In search of a more pure and unspoiled culture, he auctioned off his paintings in 1891 in order to finance a journey to Tahiti. Upon his arrival, he was disappointed to find many expatriates and developed areas, yet he was still able to capture in his works an uncultivated spirit. He not only made paintings but also created bold woodcuts and sculptures and was an avid writer. Gauguin returned to France in 1893, where he was given a solo exhibition by Durand-Ruel that was not particularly successful. He decided to leave Europe again in 1895, moving to Tahiti and later to Hivaoa, a more remote island in the Marquesas. Because he abandoned naturalistic colors and used formal distortions in order to achieve expressive compositions, Gauguin's work became an inspiration for many subsequent artists.
1. Possibly Wildenstein 1964, no. 12.