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Primitive Adventures By Paul Gauguin

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

In Paris, on 7 June 1848, the year of revolutionary upheavals throughout Europe, Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born. Unappreciated until after his death. Gauguin as an important figure in the Symbolism movement, paved the way for Primitivism. Gauguin's first steps into the art world were in art dealing.

In 1873, around the time Gauguin was working as an art dealer, Gauguin began painting in his free time. His Parisian life centered on the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Nearby were the cafés frequented by the Impressionists.

Gauguin's paintings received dismissive reviews...

Gauguin also visited galleries frequently and purchased work from emerging artists. But in 1882 the Paris stock market crashed and the art market contracted. Gauguin's earnings deteriorated sharply and he eventually decided to pursue painting full-time. Gauguin showed paintings in Impressionist exhibitions held in 1881 and 1882.

Gauguin's paintings received dismissive reviews, although several of them, such as The Market Gardens of Vaugirard, are now highly regarded.

The following two summers, he painted with Pissarro and occasionally Paul Cézanne. In 1884, Gauguin moved to Copenhagen, bringing with him his art collection, which subsequently remained in Copenhagen, Gauguin returned to Paris in June 1885. During this first year, Gauguin produced very little art.

Gauguin was inspired by book illustrations...

Gauguin exhibited 19 paintings and a wood relief at the eighth and last Impressionist exhibition in May 1886. Gauguin spent the summer of 1886 in the artists' colony of Pont-Aven in Brittany Where Gauguin was inspired by the British illustrator Randolph Caldecott (22 March 1846 – 12 February 1886).

Caldecott exercised his art chiefly in book illustrations and greatly influenced the illustration of children's books during the nineteenth century.

The drawings of the English illustrator Randolph Caldecott inspired Gauguin who was anxious to free himself from conservatism. These sketches were later worked up into paintings back in Gauguin's Paris studio. The most important of these is "Four Breton Women", which declared a marked departure from his earlier Impressionist style.

Gauguin started incorporating features of caricature and the naïve style of Caldecott's illustration in his works. Gauguin sought the primitive art of Africa and Asia, it seemed to him full of mystic symbolism and vigor.

Gauguin was inspired by Cloisonnism, a style that favors painting with flat areas of color and bold outlines, and boldly eliminated subtle gradations of color. Gauguin's works slowly evolved towards Synthetism in which neither form nor color predominates but each has an equal role.

Tahiti... Gauguin's next artistic destination.

By 1890, Gauguin decided to make Tahiti his next artistic destination. To escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional", Gauguin set sail for Tahiti on 1 April 1891. In Papeete, the capital of the colony influenced by the French and European culture, Gauguin failed to find his primitive idyll.

After three months, Gauguin decided to install himself in a native-style bamboo hut studio in Mataiea, Papeari, where he executed the most precious paintings depicting Tahitian life. Many of his finest paintings date from this period.

In August 1893, Gauguin returned to France, where he continued to execute paintings on Tahitian subjects. To return to Tahiti, Gauguin began accepting charity from friends. In June 1895 Eugène Carrière arranged a cheap passage back to Tahiti, and Gauguin never saw Europe again.

Gauguin's travelogue first published in 1901, titled Noa Noa, describes Gauguin's primitive art and life experiences in Tahiti.

In Noa Noa Gauguin revealed that he had at this time taken a 13-year-old girl called Tehura as a native wife or vahine (the Tahitian word for "woman"), who was pregnant by him by the end of summer 1892. Gauguin died suddenly on the morning of 8 May 1903.

Gauguin paintings are rarely offered for sale, their prices reaching tens of millions of US dollars. Gauguin's masterpiece "1892 Nafea Faa Ipoipo" (When Will You Marry?) became the world's third-most expensive artwork when sold privately for US$210 million in September 2014.

Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When You Will Marry?)1892, oil on canvas, 101 x 77 cm
Paul Gauguin, Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When You Will Marry?)1892, oil on canvas, 101 x 77 cm

When Will You Marry?... Primitive painting by Paul Gauguin.

"When Will You Marry?" or "Nafea faa ipoipo?" is an oil painting from 1892 by the French Primitive artist Paul Gauguin. Gauguin traveled to Tahiti for the first time in 1891.

Gauguin's journey was to find his primitive art inspiration and to find an Edenic paradise. Though European colonization wiped out "Primitive" Tahitian culture, Gauguin managed to find a space for his primitive desires.

Gauguin portrayed the Tahitian primitive natives as living only to sing and to make love. Gauguin painted many pictures of native women one of which was the rear figure in "When Will You Marry?".

Gauguin was fascinated by the Tahitian language and inscribed at the bottom right of the painting "NAFEA Faa ipoipo" (When will you marry).

The white tiare flower behind the main figure's left ear indicates she is seeking a husband. The details depicted emphasize the primitive life of the figures. The grass, the trees, and the sky occupy a wide space and somehow weaken the composition.

A traditionally dressed young woman has settled on the threshold between the front and middle ground. The main figures' interaction with the secondary subjects was not perfect. Gauguin expressed the painting using moderately liberated brushwork, vivid palette colors, and simplified work with light.

When Gauguin returned to France, his 1893 Durand-Ruel exhibition achieved limited success. Gauguin placed the "When You Will Marry?" painting on consignment at the exhibition at a price of 1,500 francs, the highest price he assigned for a painting, but had no takers. In 1917, Staechelin eventually purchased it at the Maison Moos gallery in Geneva.

In February 2015, it was sold privately by the family of Rudolf Staechelin to Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, for close to US$210 million (£155 million).

The Idea Behind the Synthetism Style in Gauguin's art.

"Synthetism" The term is derived from the French verb "synthétiser" which means to synthesize or to combine so as to form a new product. Earlier, Synthetism as an art movement has been connected to the term Cloisonnism, and later to Symbolism.

Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and others pioneered the style during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Synthetism style aimed to synthesize three features, The outward appearance of natural forms, The artist's feelings about their subject, and the aesthetic considerations of line, color, and form.

Synthetism emphasized two-dimensional flat patterns, thus differing from impressionist art and theory.

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