Paul Gauguin, various Self Portraits
Gauguin was the one that got away. In 1891 he set sail for the South Seas arriving to live a new life in Tahiti. He had had enough of the French modern urban life and all its Capitalist drudgery. He was seeking a carefree existence, an Eden where he could paint to his heart’s content, surrounded by nature. Oh yes. And so it came to pass.
This we know about Gauguin. And what of him as a human soul? How did he see himself as an artist? What were his thoughts on art? On nature?
To Emile Schuffenecker, January 1885
Look around at the immense creation of nature and you will find laws, unlike in their aspects and yet alike in their effect, which generate all human emotions. Look at a great spider, a tree trunk in a forest - both arouse strong feeling, without your knowing why.
Whence I conclude there are lines that are noble and lines that are false. The straight line reaches to infinity, the curve limits creation… Don’t perspire over a picture. A strong emotion can be translated immediately: dream on it and seek its simplest form.’
To his wife, Tahiti, March, 1892
You tell me that I am wrong to remain far away from the artistic centre. No, I am right, I have known for a long time what I am doing, and why I do it. My artistic centre is in my brain and not elsewhere and I am strong because I am never sidetracked by others, and do what is in me. Beethoven was blind and deaf, he was isolated from everything, so his works are redolent of the artist living in a world of his own.
To Georges Daniel de Monfreid, February, 1897 (French painter, art collector, patron and friend of Gauguin)
I am trying to finish a picture so as to send it with the others, but shall I have time? Be careful to keep it upright when you put in on a stretcher. I don’t know if I am mistaken, but I think it is good. I wanted, with a simple, naked figure, to suggest a certain old-time barbaric luxury. It is all bathed in colours that are deliberately dark and gloomy; the luxury is neither silk nor velvet…but solely in the substance made rich by the artist’s hand.
To Georges Daniel de Monfreid, Marquesas Islands, November, 1901
Anyhow, in my loneliness here I can gather new strength. Here poetry emanates from things of its own accord and one need only let oneself dream when painting to suggest it… I can feel that in art ‘I am right’, but shall I have the strength to express it positively! In any case I shall have done my duty, and even if my work does not survive, what will survive is the memory of an artist who liberated painting from many of its former academic failings…
Ever cordially yours, Paul Gauguin
I don’t know about you but I find Paul Gauguin a noble man. Noble in his actions and noble in his beliefs. He painted with great intent in following his knowingness. Without support of fickle critics or the ignorant public. Just those closest to him.
‘What a strange and mad public it is that exacts from the painter the utmost originality and then only accepts him when he is like the others…!’ Gauguin, July, 1900