A Chronological Timeline of Artist Paul Gauguin's Life

Self-Portrait with the Yellow Christ, by Paul Gauguin, 1890-1891, oil on canvas, 1848-1903, 30x46 cm
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

The itinerant life of French artist Paul Gauguin can tell us a lot more about this Post-Impressionist artist than just location, location, location. Truly a gifted man, we are happy to admire his work, but would we want to invite him over as a house guest? Maybe not.

The following timeline may illuminate more than the mythologized wanderer in search of an authentic primitive lifestyle.

1848

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin is born in Paris on June 7 to French journalist Clovis Gauguin (1814-1851) and Aline Maria Chazal, who was of Franco-Spanish origin. He is the youngest of the couple's two children and their only son.

Aline's mother was the socialist and proto-feminist activist and writer Flora Tristan (1803–1844), who married André Chazal and divorced him. Tristan's father, Don Mariano de Tristan Moscoso, came from a wealthy and powerful Peruvian family and died when she was four years old.

It is often reported that Paul Gauguin's mother, Aline, was half-Peruvian. She was not; her mother, Flora, was. Paul Gauguin, who enjoyed referencing his "exotic" bloodlines, was one-eighth Peruvian.

1851

Because of mounting political tensions in France, the Gauguins set sail for a safe haven with Aline Maria's family in Peru. Clovis suffers a stroke and dies during the voyage. Aline, Marie (his older sister), and Paul live in Lima, Peru with Aline's great-uncle, Don Pio de Tristan Moscoso, for three years.

1855

Aline, Marie, and Paul return to France to live with Paul's grandfather, Guillaume Gauguin, in Orléans. The elder Gauguin, a widower and retired merchant, wishes to make his only grandchildren his heirs.

1856-59

While living in the Gauguin house on Quai Neuf, Paul and Marie attend Orléans boarding schools as day students. Grandfather Guillaume dies within months of their return to France, and Aline's great-uncle, Don Pio de Tristan Moscoso, subsequently dies in Peru.

1859

Paul Gauguin enrolls in the Petit Séminaire de la Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, a first-rate boarding school located a few miles outside of Orléans. He will complete his education over the next three years, and liberally mention the Petit Séminaire (which was famous in France for its scholarly reputation) for the rest of his life.

1860

Aline Maria Gauguin moves her household to Paris, and her children live with her there while on school breaks. She is a trained dress maker, and will open her own business on the rue de la Chaussée in 1861. Aline is befriended by Gustave Arosa, a wealthy Jewish businessman of Spanish descent.

1862-64

Gauguin lives with his mother and sister in Paris.

1865

Aline Maria Gauguin retires and leaves Paris, moving first to Village de l'Avenir and then Saint-Cloud. On December 7th, Paul Gauguin, aged 17, joins the crew of the ship Luzitano as a merchant marine to fulfill his military service requirement.

1866

Second Lieutenant Paul Gauguin spends over thirteen months on the Luzitano as the ship voyages between Le Havre and Rio de Janeiro Rio.

1867

Aline Maria Gauguin dies on July 27 at age 42. In her will, she names Gustave Arosa as her children's legal guardian until they reach majority. Paul Gauguin disembarks at Le Havre on December 14 following the news of his mother's death in Saint-Cloud.

1868

Gauguin joins the navy on January 22, and becomes a sailor third-class on March 3 aboard the Jérôme-Napoléon in Cherbourg.

1871

Gauguin completes his military service on April 23. Upon returning to his mother's home in Saint-Cloud, he discovers that the residence has been destroyed by fire during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Gauguin takes an apartment in Paris around the corner from Gustave Arosa and his family, and Marie shares it with him. He becomes a bookkeeper for stockbrokers through Arosa's connections with Paul Bertin. Gauguin meets the artist Émile Schuffenecker, who is his co-worker during the day at the investment firm. In December, Gauguin is introduced to a Danish woman named Mette-Sophie Gad (1850-1920).

1873

Paul Gauguin and Mette-Sophie Gad marry in a Lutheran church in Paris on November 22. He is 25 years old.

1874

Emil Gauguin is born in Paris on August 31, almost nine months to the day of his parents' marriage.

Paul Gauguin is making a handsome salary at Bertin's investment firm, but he is also becoming increasingly interested visual art: both in creating it, and in its power to provoke. In this, the year of the first Impressionist exhibition, Gauguin meets Camille Pissarro, one of the original participants in the group. Pissarro takes Gauguin under his wing.

1875

The Gauguins move from their Paris apartment to a house in a fashionable neighborhood west of the Champs Élysées. They enjoy a large circle of friends, including Paul's sister Marie (now married to Juan Uribe, a wealthy Colombian merchant) and Mette's sister Ingeborg, who is married to the Norwegian painter Frits Thaulow (1847-1906).

1876

Gauguin submits a landscape, Under the Tree Canopy at Viroflay, to the Salon d'Automne, which is accepted and exhibited. In his spare time, he continues to learn how to paint, working evenings with Pissarro at the Académie Colarossi in Paris.

On Pissarro's advice, Gauguin also begins to modestly collect art. He buys Impressionist paintings, Paul Cézanne's works being particular favorites. However, the first three canvases he purchases were done by his mentor.

1877

Around the start of the year, Gauguin makes a lateral career move from Paul Bertin's brokerage to André Bourdon's bank. The latter offers the advantage of regular business hours, which means that regular painting hours can be established for the first time. Aside from his steady salary, Gauguin is also making a great deal of money by speculating on various stocks and commodities.

The Gauguins move once again, this time to the suburban Vaugirard district, where their landlord is the sculptor Jules Bouillot, and their neighboring fellow-tenant is the sculptor Jean-Paul Aubé (1837-1916). Aubé's apartment also serves as his teaching studio, so Gauguin immediately begins learning 3-D techniques. Over the summer, he completes marble busts of both Mette and Emil.

On December 24, Aline Gauguin is born. She will be Paul and Mette's only daughter.

1879

Gustave Arosa puts his art collection up at auction--not because he needs money, but because the works (primarily from French painters and executed in the 1830s) have appreciated greatly in value. Gauguin realizes that visual art is also a commodity. He also realizes that sculpture requires a substantial front-end investment on the artist's part, while painting does not. He focuses less intently on the former and begins to concentrate almost exclusively on the latter, which he feels he has mastered.

Gauguin gets his name in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition catalogue, albeit as a lender. He was invited to participate by both Pissarro and Degas and submitted a small marble bust (probably of Emil). This was shown but, due to his late inclusion, not mentioned in the catalogue. Over the summer, Gauguin will spend several weeks in Pontoise painting with Pissarro.

Clovis Gauguin is born on May 10. He is the Gauguin's third child and second son and will be one of his father's two favorite children, his sister Aline being the other.

1880

Gauguin submits to the Fifth Impressionist exhibition, held in the spring.

It will be his debut as a professional artist and, this year, he's had time to work towards it. He submits seven paintings and a marble bust of Mette. The few critics who even notice his work are unimpressed, labeling him as a "second tier" Impressionist whose influence by Pissarro is far too noticeable. Gauguin is enraged but oddly encouraged--nothing but bad reviews could have as effectively cemented his status as an artist with his fellow artists.

Over the summer, the Gauguin family moves to a new apartment in the Vaugirard which has a studio for Paul.

1881

Gauguin exhibits eight paintings and two sculptures in the Sixth Impressionist exhibition. One canvas in particular, Nude Study (Woman Sewing) (also known as Suzanne Sewing), is reviewed enthusiastically by the critics; the artist is now an acknowledged professional and rising star. Jean-René Gauguin is born on April 12, just a few days after the show opens.

Gauguin spends his summer vacation time painting with Pissarro and Paul Cézanne at Pontoise.

1882


Gauguin submits 12 works to the Seventh Impressionist exhibition, many completed during the previous summer at Pontoise.

In January of this year, the French stock market crashes. Not only does this jeopardize Gauguin's day job, it also curtails his extra income from speculating. He now must consider earning a living as a full-time artist in a flat market--not from the position of strength he had previously imagined.

1883

By autumn, Gauguin either leaves or has been terminated from his job. He begins to paint full-time, and serves as an art broker on the side. He also sells life insurance and is an agent for a sail-cloth company--anything to make ends meet.

The family moves to Rouen, where Gauguin has calculated that they can live as economically as the Pissarros have. There is also a large Scandinavian community in Rouen into which the Gauguins (especially the Danish Mette) are welcomed. The artist senses potential buyers.

Paul and Mette's fifth and last child, Paul-Rollon ("Pola"), is born on December 6. Gauguin suffers the loss of two father figures in the spring of this year: his old friend, Gustave Arosa, and Édouard Manet, one of the few artists Gauguin idolized.

1884

Though life is cheaper in Rouen, dire financial straits (and slow painting sales) see Gauguin selling off parts of his art collection and his life insurance policy. Stress is taking its toll on the Gauguin marriage; Paul is verbally abusive to Mette, who sails to Copenhagen in July to investigate job opportunities for both of them there.

Mette returns with the news that she can earn money teaching French to Danish clients and that Denmark shows great interest in collecting Impressionist works. Paul secures a position in advance as a sales representative. Mette and the children move to Copenhagen in early November, and Paul joins them several weeks later.

1885

Mette thrives in her native Copenhagen, while Gauguin, who does not speak Danish, miserably criticizes every aspect of their new home. He finds being a sales representative demeaning and makes only a pittance at his job. He spends his off hours either painting or writing plaintive letters to his friends in France.

His one potential shining moment, a solo show at Academy of Art in Copenhagen, is shut down after only five days.

Gauguin has, after six months in Denmark, convinced himself that family life is holding him back and Mette can fend for herself. He returns to Paris in June with son Clovis, now 6 years old, and leaves Mette with the other four children in Copenhagen.

1886

Gauguin has gravely underestimated his welcome back to Paris. The art world is more competitive, now that he is not also a collector, and he is a pariah in respectable social circles due to abandoning his wife. Ever defiant, Gauguin responds with more public outbursts and erratic behavior.

He supports himself and his ailing son Clovis as a "billsticker" (he pasted advertisements on walls), but the two are living in poverty and Paul lacks the funds to send Clovis to a boarding school as was promised to Mette. Paul's sister Marie, who has been hit hard by the stock market crash, is sufficiently disgusted with her brother to step in and find the funds to pay for her nephew's tuition.

He submits 19 canvases to the Eighth (and final) Impressionist exhibition held in May and June, and in which he has invited his friends, artists Émile Schuffenecker and Odilon Redon, to exhibit.

He meets the ceramicist Ernest Chaplet and studies with him. Gauguin goes to Brittany in the summer and lives for five months in the Pont-Aven boarding house run by Marie-Jeanne Gloanec. Here he meets other artists including Charles Laval and Émile Bernard.

Back in Paris late in the year, Gauguin quarrels with Seurat, Signac and even his staunch ally Pissarro over Impressionism v. Neo-Impressionism.

1887

Gauguin studies ceramics, teaches at the Académie Vitti in Paris, and visits his wife in Copenhagen. On April 10 he leaves for Panama with Charles Laval. They visit Martinique and both fall ill with dysentery and malaria. Laval so gravely that he attempts suicide.

In November, Gauguin returns to Paris and moves in with Émile Schuffenecker. Gauguin becomes friendly with Vincent and Theo van Gogh. Theo exhibits Gauguin's work at Boussod and Valadon, and also buys some of his pieces.

1888

Gauguin begins the year in Brittany, working with Émile Bernard, Jacob Meyer (Meijer) de Haan, and Charles Laval. (Laval has sufficiently recovered from their ocean voyage enough to become engaged to Bernard's sister, Madeleine.)

In October Gauguin moves to Arles where Vincent van Gogh hopes to start the Studio of the South - as opposed to the Pont-Aven School up north. Theo van Gogh foots the bill for the "Yellow House" rental, while Vincent diligently sets up studio space for two. In November Theo sells a number of works for Gauguin at his solo show in Paris.

On December 23, Gauguin quickly leaves Arles after Vincent cuts off a portion of his own ear. Back in Paris, Gauguin moves in with Schuffenecker.

1889

Gauguin spends January through March in Paris and exhibits at the Café Volpini. He then leaves for Le Pouldu in Brittany where he works with the Dutch artist Jacob Meyer de Haan, who pays their rent and buys food for two. He continues to sell through Theo van Gogh, but his sales decline.

1890

Gauguin continues working with Meyer de Haan in Le Pouldu through June, when the Dutch artist's family cuts off his (and, most importantly to them, Gauguin's) stipend. Gauguin returns to Paris, where he stays with Émile Schuffenecker and becomes the chief of the Symbolists at the Café Voltaire.

Vincent van Gogh dies in July.

1891

Gauguin's dealer Theo van Gogh dies in January, terminating a small but crucial source of revenue. Then he argues with Schuffenecker in February.

In March he visits with his family in Copenhagen briefly. On March 23, he attends the banquet for the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé.

During the spring he organizes a public sale of his work at the Hôtel Drouet. The revenue from 30 paintings' sales is enough to put toward his trip to Tahiti. He leaves Paris on April 4 and arrives in Papeete, Tahiti on June 8, ill with bronchitis.

On August 13, Gauguin's ex-model/mistress, Juliette Huais, gives birth to a daughter whom she names Germaine.

1892

Gauguin lives and paints in Tahiti, but it is not the idyllic life he envisioned. Expecting to live frugally, he quickly discovers that imported art supplies are very expensive. The natives he idealized and expected to befriend are happy to accept his gifts (which also cost money) to model for Gauguin, but they don't accept him. There are no buyers in Tahiti, and his name is fading into obscurity back in Paris. Gauguin's health suffers terribly.

On December 8, he sends eight of his Tahitian paintings to Copenhagen, where the long-suffering Mette has gotten him into an exhibition.

1893

The Copenhagen show is a success, resulting in some sales and much publicity for Gauguin in Scandinavian and German collecting circles. Gauguin is not impressed, however, because Paris is not impressed. He becomes convinced that he must return triumphantly to Paris or give up painting altogether.

With the last of his funds, Paul Gauguin sails from Papeete in June. He arrives in Marseilles in very poor health on August 30. He then goes to Paris.

Despite the hardships of Tahiti, Gauguin had managed to paint over 40 canvases in two years. Edgar Degas appreciates these new works, and convinces the art dealer Durand-Ruel to mount a one-man show of the Tahitian paintings in his gallery.

Though many of the paintings will come to be acknowleged as masterpieces, no one knows what to make of them or their Tahitian titles in November of 1893. Thirty-three of 44 fail to sell.

1894

Gauguin realizes that his glory days in Paris are forever behind him. He paints little but affects an ever more flamboyant public persona. He lives in Pont Aven and Le Pouldu where, over the summer, he is badly beaten after getting into a fight with a group of sailors. While he recovers in the hospital, his young mistress, Anna the Javanese, returns to his Paris studio, steals everything of value and disappears.

By September, Gauguin decides that he is leaving France for good to return to Tahiti, and begins making plans.

1895

In February, Gauguin holds another sale at the Hôtel Drouot to finance his return to Tahiti. It is not well attended, although Degas buys a few pieces in a show of support. Dealer Ambroise Vollard, who also made some purchases, expresses interest in representing Gauguin in Paris. The artist, however, makes no firm commitment before sailing.

Gauguin is back in Papeete by September. He rents land in Punaauia and begins constructing a house with a large studio. However, his health again takes a turn for the worse. He is admitted to the hospital and is quickly running out of money.

1896

While still painting, Gauguin supports himself in Tahiti by working for the Office of Public Works and the Land Registry. Back in Paris, Ambroise Vollard is doing a steady business with Gauguin works, although he is selling them at bargain prices.

In November, Vollard holds a Gauguin exhibition consisting of the leftover Durand-Ruel canvases, some earlier paintings, ceramic pieces and wooden sculptures.

1897

Gauguin's daughter Aline dies of pneumonia in January, and he receives the news in April. Gauguin, who had spent about seven days with Aline over the past decade, blames Mette and sends her a series of accusatory, condemning letters.

In May, the land he had rented is being sold, so he abandons the house he was building and buys another nearby. Over the summer, plagued by financial worries and increasingly bad health, he begins to fixate on Aline's death.

Gauguin claims to have attempted suicide by drinking arsenic before the end of the year, an event that roughly coincides with his execution of the monumental painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

1901

Gauguin leaves Tahiti because he finds that life is becoming too expensive. He sells his house and moves just under 1,000 miles northeast to the French Marquesas. He settles on Hiva Oa, the second largest of the islands there. The Marquesans, who have a history of physical beauty and cannibalism, are more welcoming of the artist than the Tahitians had been.

Gauguin's son, Clovis, died the previous year in Copenhagen from blood poisoning following a surgical procedure. Gauguin has also left an illegitimate son, Emile (1899-1980), behind in Tahiti.

1903

Gauguin spends his last years in somewhat more comfortable financial and emotional circumstances. He will never see his family again and has stopped caring about his reputation as an artist. This, of course, means that his work begins to sell again back in Paris. He paints, but also has a renewed interest in sculpting.

His last companion is a teenaged girl named Marie-Rose Vaeoho, who bears him a daughter in September of 1902.

Bad health, including eczema, syphilis, a heart condition, malaria he contracted in the Caribbean, rotting teeth, and a liver ruined by years of heavy drinking, finally catches up with Gauguin. He dies May 8, 1903 on Hiva Oa. He is interred in Calvary Cemetery there, though is denied a Christian burial.

News of his death will not reach Copenhagen or Paris until August.

Sources and Further Reading

Brettell, Richard R. and Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark. Gauguin and Impressionism.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

 

Broude, Norma and Mary D. Garrard (eds.).
The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History.
New York: Icon Editions/HarperCollins Publisher, 1992.

-- Solomon-Godeau, Abigail. “Going Native: Paul Gauguin and the Invention of Primitivist Modernism,” 313-330.
-- Brooks, Peter. “Gauguin’s Tahitian Body,” 331-347.

Fletcher, John Gould. Paul Gauguin: His Life and Art.
New York: Nicholas L. Brown, 1921.

Gauguin, Pola; Arthur G. Chater, trans. My Father, Paul Gauguin.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937.

Gauguin, Paul; Ruth Pielkovo, trans.
The Letters of Paul Gauguin to Georges Daniel de Monfried
New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1922

Mathews, Nancy Mowll. Paul Gauguin: An Erotic Life.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Rabinow, Rebecca, Douglas W. Druick, Ann Dumas, Gloria Groom, Anne Roquebert and Gary Tinterow.
Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde (exh. cat.).
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006.

Rapetti, Rodolphe. "Gauguin, Paul."
Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 5 June 2010.

Shackleford, George T. M. and Claire Frèche-Thory.
Gauguin Tahiti (exh. cat.).
Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Publications, 2004.