Paul Gauguin: A Flawed Artist: Background information when reading Castle of Water

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Castle of Water

A Novel

by Dane Huckelbridge

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge X
Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
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    Apr 2017, 288 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Paul Gauguin: A Flawed Artist

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Paul Gauguin Self-Portrait In Castle of Water, one of the characters is headed to the Marquesas Islands, part of French Polynesia, because he wants to pay his respects to the renowned French painter, Paul Gauguin, who breathed his last there.

Paul Gauguin was born in 1848 in France to a French father and a mother with mixed French and Peruvian heritage. While Gauguin was still a child, his journalist father decided to travel to Peru to develop his career there but unfortunately died along the way. Gauguin's mother journeyed on and lived in Lima for a few years, eventually returning to France along with Paul and his siblings.

Given his prodigious fame in the art world and his talents, it is surprising that Gauguin did not have formal training; he chanced upon painting as a hobby while pursuing other careers—first in the Merchant Marine and later, as a stockbroker. Then a market crash brought his career in the financial world to a grinding halt and he took this as an opportunity to pursue his art full-time even as he struggled to keep his family—including a Danish wife and five children—afloat. He separated from his family eventually and focused solely on his art.

Perhaps because Gauguin did not have any formal training, he was more free to experiment with styles that appealed to him and his work. He was noticed by the growing Impressionist movement of which he eventually became a part; and for a while Camille Pissarro, one of the great Impressionists, was his mentor.

Yet fame eluded Gauguin for a long time, and he slowly moved to a style called Primitivism with bold elemental shapes and colors, which he claimed allowed him to reveal his "savage" self. For a while, Gauguin was friends with another famous artist Vincent Van Gogh, even staying at van Gogh's retreat in Arles in France until their relationship grew increasingly fractious. Gauguin allegedly went at van Gogh with a razor, not quite grounds for genial camaraderie.

Gauguin's House of Pleasure Growing increasingly frustrated with the art scene in Paris, Gauguin moved to French Polynesia to the island of Tahiti at first. His paintings while here are in vivid colors and often depict nudes in suggestive poses. Gauguin was quite notorious for his sexual activities even before he got to Tahiti (he had already contracted syphilis) but his amorous romps in the island did nothing to dispel the image of a talented yet deeply flawed character, especially since he favored teen girls. One such was the model for many a painting.

From Tahiti, he eventually moved to the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas and decided to set up a "house of pleasure" there. His syphilis had other plans. Gauguin continued to paint and write his memoir for a while (which was published posthumously) before dying alone on the island in 1903.

Some art critics have questioned whether it is wrong to appreciate Gauguin's art given his pedophilia and his rather tainted background. Whichever way one might view the man, Gauguin made an indelible impression and he influenced many artists—including most notably Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso—in his wake.

Paul Gauguin self-portrait from Kunstmuseum Basel

Painting Nave nave moe (Sacred spring, sweet dreams), 1894, from Hermitage Museum

Picture of "House of Pleasure" by Remi Jouan

This article was originally published in April 2017, and has been updated for the April 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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