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Paul Gauguin, Free Poster
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Paul Gauguin’s art reputation is as high as one can go in the art world. His reputation for his personal life, however, has always lagged behind since, as it is popularly surmised, “he left his family to paint.” The details of how this happened are not as clearcut as one would imagine though.
What is known is that he was born in France but raised in Peru in South America. As an adult, he returned to France and great success as a stockbroker. He taught himself how to paint in 1874 and kept at it the entire time he was working as a stockbroker. He was accepted by the Impressionists as a painter but their style was not his. He did exhibit once with them though.
It is unclear whether Paul quit his job or was terminated. The stock market plunged in France and that’s where Paul had made all of his money. While the market was high, he had been quite affluent. His Danish wife, Mette, saw their resources dwindling after his job ended and returned with the children to her native Copenhagen, where her family still lived.
Things went from bad to worse while Paul lived under the disapproving eyes of his in-laws in Copenhagen with his wife and children. He took a job for which he was wholly unsuited, as a sales representative for tarpaulin manufacturers. He made no living wage doing this job. He also did not speak Danish, a big stumbling block.
In May 1885, he wrote to Camille Pissarro: “Misery in a foreign town! No credit and no money: each day I wonder if it wouldn't be better to go to the attic and put a rope around my neck. What holds me back is painting."
In June of 1885, he gave up on Denmark and returned to France. He saw Mette once more in 1991 when he tried to get her to go with him to Tahiti. She refused and he never saw her again.
Although Mette remained permanently estranged from Paul, she held on to the artistic parts of him. She conducted a salon in her Copenhagen apartment. There she had Paul’s collection of his contemporaries' and his own art work, which impressed the Danish literati.
In 1893, Paul’s work was shown in Copenhagen to more acclaim than in 1885. Danish collectors began to buy Paul’s art, and the works of other avant-garde Parisian artists. So Mette apparently had all of their assets to dispose of as she pleased. Paul and Mette Gauguin’s story will never be straightened out. However, it does not seem as simple as he left his family to paint.