Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Poster Print

Life's Questions

Life's Questions Print - Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Paul Gauguin Prints & Posters

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From 1886 to 1890 Pont-Aven, in Brittany, was the favourite resort of a group of artists, who in time came to be known as the Pont-Aven School. Gauguin went there in 1886, partly, as he said, for reasons of economy, but also because he hoped to find "in this unspoilt land of old-world customs" an atmosphere quite different from that of "our atrociously civilized communities." Here he met his old friend Schuffenecker; also Emile Bernard, to whom he gave a rather cool reception. Gauguin now seemed to be abandoning the analysis of colour, turning his back on Impressionism, and putting Pissarro, his erstwhile teacher, out of mind. A word that often cropped up in his conversation was "Synthesis." His visit was brief on this occasion; he soon returned to Paris. During his second stay in Pont-Aven, in 1888, his contacts with other artists were on a wider scale. Several new -isms now came to the fore; alongside Symbolism there arose Synthesism and Cloisonnism.

On this occasion the original trio -- Gauguin, Schuffenecker and Bernard -- was joined later in the year by Henri Moret, the Dutchman Verkade and Sérusier. By Synthesism was meant "a concise simplification" of the forms expressing the Idea. But it was Cloisonnism that led to the most heated discussions. Its technique was simple enough -- that of binding forms in clean-cut contour-lines. Emile Bernard claimed paternity of the method, but there is no denying that this technique was not, strictly speaking, original; it had precedents in Japanese prints, in stained-glass windows, and of course in cloisonné enamel-work (in which the 'cloisons' are left visible); not to mention the popular picture-sheets produced at Epinal from the eighteenth century on. This technique found favour with the Pont-Aven group, and Sérusier codified it. It was now that Gauguin painted his Yellow Christ and his magnificent Jacob wrestling with the Angel.

Next year, finding Pont-Aven overcrowded the group migrated to the near-by village of Le Pouldu, making Marie Henry's inn their headquarters. Here, Gauguin made the acquaintance of the Dutch painter Meyer de Haan. The inn parlour was decorated by Gauguin, Henri Moret, Maufra, Meyer de Haan and Sérusier. There can be no doubt as to the coherency of the theories of the Pont-Aven group. One of these was that the artist should "dare everything," as Gauguin put it. Another, that the traditional views on art borrowed from Greece and Italy should be rejected, and a return made to archaic and hieratic forms, Assyrian or Breton as the case might be. Also that the artist should suggest impressions, conveying his "suggestion" by his arrangement of colours, light and shade, and thus produce the effect of music on the pictorial plane; that outlines should be clean-cut, as in Japanese prints and stained-glass windows (as described above); that flat colour rimmed by contour-lines should suggest a new kind of depth, due to the relative intensity of tones. And all these devices were to be put to the service of that one thing most desirable: the Symbol.

Paul Gauguin Autoportrait Print Poster - Yellow Christ

Autoportrait au Christ Jaune

Autoportrait au Christ Jaune Giclee Print

Paul Gauguin

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Paul Gauguin Self Portrait with Yellow Christ Print Poster Gauguin and Van Gogh When Gauguin and Van Gogh met in Paris in the autumn of 1886 the two men were greatly struck with each other. In the course of February 1888 Van Gogh left rather hastily for Arles, while Gauguin went to Pont-Aven or the summer. It was now that he painted this wonderful "Vision after the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel"in his new technique (to which he gave the names of Cloisonnism and Synthesism). He asked Van Gogh to come to Brittany, while Van Gogh urged him to move to Arles and to join him in founding a "Studio of the South." The little portraits adorning this correspondence are touching evidence of their liking for each other at this time.

Finally Gauguin, always ready for new adventures, packed up and came to Arles on October 20. Somehow they succeeded in living together for two months, though their differences of temperament showed from the start, and the tension between them rose rapidly. On Christmas Day Van Gogh in a fit of madness cut off his own ear; and Gauguin beat a hurried retreat to Paris. But even so there had been time enough for Van Gogh, vastly impressed by Gauguin's intellectual attainments, to modify his style. He painted L'Arlésienne after a drawing by Gauguin, and under his influence began the sequence of five pictures known as La Berceuse which, while showing traces of the admiration both men had for Japanese prints, have the same decorative rhythm and symbolic harmony as The Vision.

Gauguin Charcoal Poster Print Tahitian Head

Head of a Tahitian

Head of a Tahitian Giclee Print

Paul Gauguin

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Paul Gauguin Charcoal Work - Head of a Tahitian Woman In the late 1880s the impressionists, for all their free use of color, followed the factual or realist tradition in painting the everyday world around them. Opposed to them were van Gogh's friends, Gauguin and Emile Bernard, who insisted upon the right of the artist to express his feelings both in style and in subject. Theo van Gogh, though he was Gauguin's loyal and tolerant dealer, tended to side with the impressionists. We can follow the conflict in Vincent's letters to Theo van Gogh118 and Emile Bernard. From Arles in April 1888 van Gogh writes to Bernard: "The imagination is certainly a faculty which we must develop and it alone can bring us to creation of a more exalting and consoling nature . . .

A starspangled sky, for instance, that's a thing I would like to try to do . . . But how can I manage unless I make up my mind to work . . . from imagination?" A month later he writes again: "I wonder when I'll get my starry sky done, a picture that haunts me always." Within six months in a letter to Theo, Vincent repeats his argument: "To express hope by a star, the eagerness of the soul by a sunset radiance. Certainly there is nothing in that of . . . realism, but is it not something that exists?" But later in September, the realist (or impressionist) point of view reasserts itself and he writes Theo: "The problem of painting night scenes . . . on the spot and actually by night interests me enormously." Before the end of the month he had done a canvas of a "starry sky painted actually at night under a gas jet." This first version of a starry night he describes to Theo with an almost Whistlerian esthetic detachment: "The town is blue and violet, the gas is yellow . . .

On the blue-green field of the sky the Great Bear sparkles, its discreet pallor contrasting with the brutal gold of the gaslight." But in the same letter, after speaking of the difficulty of painting a street scene in the spirit of the realistic novelists, Zola and Flaubert, he confesses: "That does not prevent me having a terrible need of -- shall I say the word -- of religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars . . ." The influence of Gauguin and Bernard was at work. The two had spent the summer together in Brittany developing their "Synthetist" principles which were already tinged with the anti-realism of the Symbolist poets, particularly Mallarmé. Late in the fall of '88, while Gauguin is visiting him in Arles, Vincent writes Theo: "Gauguin gives me courage to imagine things." And, finally, summoning this new courage, he painted some six months later his second and great Starry Night.

Paul Gauguin Self Portrait Poster Print

Self Portrait

Self Portrait Giclee Print

Paul Gauguin

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When we turn to Gauguin's life, we find that perhaps in him too there was a disproportion between the modest scale of his gifts and his pretensions which were not always on the same scale. When his own will did not share in the decision, fate brought about grotesque disproportions. Born in Paris in 1848, the son of an insignificant journalist, he had before him, in contrast to the narrow circle which bounded his own life, the exotic and luxurious flora of his mother's family, among whom there figured a Spanish colonel and a Viceroy of Peru who lived to be 113 years old. It seems almost like the narrative of a film that the father should die on the way to the wonderful country from which he hoped so much, and the mother and children arrive alone in Lima, where they remained for four years. Then came the return to Orleans and the narrow life of the first years. At seventeen Paul entered the mercantile marine and was still a sailor when the Franco-Prussian war broke out. After that he became a clerk in a bank. In 1873 he married a Danish girl of good family who bore him five children. The stage seemed set for a peaceful middle-class existence, when suddenly he was seized with the desire to paint. As his work at the Bourse kept him busy during the week, he became what was known as a "Sunday painter". He got to know Pissarro and afterwards the other Impressionists, whose pictures he purchased out of his savings. His landscapes at this time were soft and pretty, pointed with a timid application of Impressionistic technique. With painting as his "violon d'Ingres" he was now able to lead a modest but happy existence. But he wanted to soar higher still, he gave up his work at the bank and devoted himself entirely to painting. As was only natural, he failed to sell any of his pictures and was consequently without any source of income. In the vain hope that living would be cheaper there, he went to Rouen, and thence to Copenhagen, to his wife's family, who were incapable of understanding either him or his actions. He separated from the mother of his children and returned with his son to Paris, where first the child and then he himself fell ill. Years of misery followed, during which he earned a little money by pasting up posters at railway-stations.