Later Life and Art
In 1888, Gauguin and Émile Bernard proposed a synthetist theory of art, emphasizing the use of flat planes and bright, nonnaturalistic color in conjunction with symbolic or primitive subjects. The Yellow Christ (Albright-Knox Art Gall., Buffalo) is characteristic of this period. Gauguin continued to search for a greater sense of spirituality and a greater sexual freedom than could be found in late 19th-century Europe, and in 1891, after selling 30 canvases, he used the proceeds to sail to Tahiti. There he spent two years living poorly, using Tahitian themes to paint some of his finest pictures, and writing Noa Noa (tr. 1947), an autobiographical novel set in Tahiti. He also created a group of carved wooden sculptures and superb woodcut prints depicting Tahitian subjects as well as lithographs and ceramics. In 1893 he returned to France, collected a legacy, and exhibited his work, rousing some interest but making very little money. Disheartened and sick from syphilis, which had afflicted him for many years, he again set out for the South Seas in 1895. There his last years were spent in poverty, despair, and physical suffering. In 1897 he attempted suicide and failed, living to paint for five more years. He died on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. Islands.
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