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Martinique Years: Women with Mangoes Painting by Paul Gauguin

Martinique Years: Women with Mangoes Painting by Paul Gauguin

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (French: [øʒɛn ɑ̃ʁi pɔl ɡoɡɛ̃]; 7 June 1848 – 8 May 1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist who was not well appreciated until after his death.

Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of color and synthetist style that were distinctly different from Impressionism. His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Gauguin’s art became popular after his death, partially from the efforts of art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who organized exhibitions of his work late in his career, as well as assisting in organizing two important posthumous exhibitions in Paris. Many of his paintings were in the possession of Russian collector Sergei Shchukin as well as other important collections.

He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, and writer. His bold experimentation with color led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art, while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential proponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.

In 1887, after visiting Panama, Gauguin spent several months near Saint Pierre in Martinique, accompanied by his friend the artist Charles Laval. Paul Gauguin spent approximately 6 months on the island of Martinique in June to November 1887. His thoughts and experiences during this time are recorded in his letters to his wife Mette and his artist friend Emile Schuffenecker. He arrived in Martinique by way of Panama where he had found himself broke and without a job.

At the time France had a policy of repatriation where if a citizen became broke or stranded on a French colony, the state would pay for the boat ride back. Upon leaving Panama protected by the repatriation policy, Gauguin and Laval decided to get off the boat at the Martinique port of St. Pierre. Scholars are in disagreement if Gauguin intentionally or spontaneously decided to stay on the island. At first, the ‘negro hut’ in which they lived suited him, and he enjoyed watching people in their daily activities.

However, the weather in the summer was hot and the hut leaked in the rain. Gauguin also suffered dysentery and marsh fever. While in Martinique, he produced between 10 and 20 works (12 being the most common estimate), traveled widely and apparently came into contact with a small community of Indian immigrants; a contact that would later influence his art through the incorporation of Indian symbols. During his stay, the writer Lafcadio Hearn was also on the island. His account provides an historical comparison to accompany Gauguin’s images.

Gauguin finished 11 known paintings during his stay in Martinique, many of which seem to be derived from his hut. His letters to Schuffenecker express an excitement about the exotic location and natives represented in his paintings. Gauguin asserted that four of his paintings on the island were better than the rest. The works as a whole are brightly colored, loosely painted, outdoor figural scenes. Even though his time on the island was short, it surely was influential. He recycled some of his figures and sketches in later paintings, like the motif in Among the Mangoes[44] which is replicated on his fans. Rural and indigenous populations remained a popular subject in Gauguin’s work after he left the island.