Name at birth: Eugéne Henri Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a French painter of the late 19th century, known for his bold colors, primitive style and paintings of young Polynesian girls. Born in Paris, Paul Gauguin spent his early childhood in Peru, where his maternal grandmother was a well-known socialist and feminist, then returned to Paris when he was six years old. He spent his late teens and early twenties in the merchant marine and navy, then settled down in Paris in 1871 and built a life as a stockbroker, with a wife and five children. Gauguin began painting part-time under the tutelage of Camille Pissarro, and fell in with the Impressionists of Paris. He left his career to take up painting full time around 1882, leaving his family for a life of art and the quest for a primitive paradise. Gauguin traveled from Brittany to Panama to Martinique before returning to Paris in 1888, where he met Vincent Van Gogh and formed a friendship based on art and depressive disorders; some historians even think it was Gauguin who cut off Van Gogh's ear with a sword. Gauguin ended up in Tahiti in 1891, and his most well-known paintings depict Polynesian culture, especially pubescent girls, rendered in solid outlines and vivid color. He died at the age of 54 from symptoms related to syphilis (or, it's said, from an overdose of morphine to combat those symptoms). His most famous paintings include Spirit of the Dead Watching (1892), Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1898) and The Yellow Christ (1898).
A book published in Germany in 2009, Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, argues that Paul Gauguin sliced off Vincent Van Gogh’s ear with a sword during an argument in 1888, and that both artists agreed to say Van Gogh had done it himself. The two painted together and had close friendship, until Van Gogh apparently became too demanding of Gauguin’s attention. The traditional story is that Van Gogh cut his own ear off after an argument with Gauguin.
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