Paul Gauguin Tate Modern exhibition banner

A critic at my house… asks to see my drawings. My drawings! Never! They are my letters, my secrets.
Avant et après, 1903

While the Impressionists were associated with painting outdoors, transferring their visual sensations directly onto the canvas, Gauguin preferred to work in the studio, allowing imagination and a guiding intelligence to shape the composition. Nonetheless, direct observation – particularly of the human figure – was a crucial element in his creative process. Wherever he travelled drawing was a way to assimilate his surroundings, and he made numerous sketches of faces, bodies, postures, clothing, animals and plants that would be incorporated – sometimes repeatedly – into paintings. He wrote to a friend from Tahiti describing the content of his sketchbooks as ‘a lot of research which can bear fruit, many documents that I hope will be useful for a long time in France’.

Gauguin developed his own highly simplified, synthetic style of drawing, influenced by the powerful draughtsmanship of Edgar Degas, the incisive line of French caricaturists such as Honoré Daumier and Jean-Louis Forain, and the freedom of the Japanese artist Hokusai. His drawings emphasise contour and dispense with what he considered redundant analytical detail. When teaching drawing, as he did for a short time in a studio in Montparnasse, he paid less attention to correctness than to lapses of art or good taste. Technique, he claimed, developed with practice, all the quicker if one concentrated on something else.