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Paul Gauguin

"I wanted to win the right to be daring... And although my powers were too meagre, the machine was set in motion. The public owes me nothing, my pic­tures are only relatively good, but the artists who now make use of this free­dom do owe me something," was how Paul Gauguin summed up the signifi­cance of his work. His path to art was long and difficult. At thirty-five he renounced a moderate, affluent life, giving up his career as a stockbroker and left his family to devote himself entirely to painting. After passing through an Impressionist stage, the artist soon became disillusioned with the trend. His dream was now to create a new art, free of the conventions of European civil­isation, a "savage" art with vivid colour combinations, "primitive" form and composition that was infinitely beautiful in its purity and naiveté.

In 1891 Gauguin left for Tahiti in the hope of finding new sources of inspira­tion there. The artist was overwhelmed by the exotic beauty of the place. His autobiographical book with the poetic title of Noa-Noa (Fragrant Land) is full of enthusiasm for the new country. In Tahiti Gauguin's artistic style acquired a new harmony. In vivid intense colours the artist expressed his fas­cination with the exotic beauty of nature, the embodiment of an earthly par­adise. He made a careful study of this world which was new to Europeans, its countryside, history and culture. He believed that the basic laws of being could be found in "primitive art" closely linked with nature.

Reality was far removed from his expectations, however. Illness and poverty forced Gauguin to return to Paris, where new disappointments awaited him. The works painted in Tahiti were not understood by the public, and an auc­tion of his paintings did not produce much income. After receiving a small inheritance, he left once more for Polynesia, this time forever.

Gauguin was the first European artist to turn to the traditions of "primitive art" in order to restore simplicity and naiveté to painting. He discovered for masters of the twentieth century the expressive power of non-European cul­tures. Flat forms, vivid colours and decorative compositions, all these finds served as a point of departure for creative experiments by future generations of French artists.