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.
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.
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.
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 committment 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.
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.
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?
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.
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, the 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.