Paul Gauguin 110 Years Later
- May 8, 2013
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May 8, 1903, 110 years ago today, Paul Gauguin died at the age of 54. In 1901, Gauguin moved to Atuona on the south coast of Hiva Oa, the second largest island of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, a territory of France. This would become his final resting place.
While in Atuona, Gauguin lived with a young woman named Marie-Rose Vaeoho and built a small home on stilts which included a sculpture studio, a dining room, a kitchen and upstairs, a room and a workshop. It was in this home that Gauguin painted 20 some works with unnaturally overwhelming color.
In Atuona, Gauguin became more of an outcast. He took the natives’ side against French colonialists and incited them to stop paying taxes and to stop sending their children to schools that only taught evil. He was sent to court and charged for libeling the governor. For his actions he was fined 500 francs and sentenced to 3 months in prison. Following an appeal he was tried and fined 500 francs and 1 month in prison.
Gauguin suffered from an advancing case of syphilis which restricted his mobility and, before beginning his prison sentence, he died of an overdose of morphine and a possible heart attack. The news of his death did not reach Paris of Copenhagen until August.
The Paul Gauguin Cultural Center, located on the original site of Gauguin’s house, opened in 2003, 100 years after the death of the artist. The Japanese-style museum is dedicated to the life and works of Gauguin. On exhibit are sculptures, wood carvings, engravings and reproductions of the paintings he created while in Polynesia. Unfortunately, the museum holds no originals of Gauguin’s work. Paul Gauguin’s house, “La Maison du Jouir”, has been reconstructed behind the museum. The name, which means “House of Pleasure”, is carved above the doorway.
Gauguin is buried on a hill in the Calvary Cemetery overlooking Atuona, French Polynesia. Guarding his grave is a bolted down bronze replica of his ceramic sculpture, Oviri, which he had made in Paris for his grave. The original sculpture never made it to the island and can be seen today in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris.