Abstract Canvas Prints No 51 : The Rolling Stones
PAUL GAUGUIN AND SYMBOLISM
‘I am a great artist and I know it,’ boasted Paul Gauguin. On another occasion he said that Van Gogh had ‘profited from what I had to teach him. And every day he’d thank me for it.’ Arrogant? I should say so.
He was also a self-seeking plagiarist who left his wife and children to cavort with young girls in the South Seas, spreading his syphilitic poison in the process.
He was a dandy, a bully, a cynic and a hard-drinking egotist.
His one-time teacher and mentor Camille Pissarro called him ‘a schemer’, while reporting that Monet and Renoir found his work ‘simply bad’.
Even his friend the Swedish playwright August Strindberg told Gauguin, ‘I cannot understand your art and I cannot like it.’
And how did Gauguin react to that last comment? He published it. Prominently. In a catalogue of his artworks.
Because for all his faults – and I think we’ve established there were many – he was brave, physically and artistically.
It took courage to give up the life of a stockbroker who had collected the Impressionists’ art, in an attempt to join their art gang.
And not because of the financial risk.
The stock market crash of 1882 saw to it that money would be no object to Gauguin, for when the young financier woke up the day after, he discovered he no longer had any.
No, it was the risk of not being taken seriously as a painter by a group of artists he revered.
Worse, the risk of being thought to lack artistic integrity: to be a charlatan who’d bought his way into a private club, like a rich man paying to perform with the Rolling Stones.