This is the first of two rooms that bring together a selection of books, letters, photographs and other documentary materials to illustrate Gauguin’s life, his reading and writing, the places where he worked and his relationships with poets, critics and other artists.
It looks at his family background, including his maternal grandmother Flora Tristan – a prominent socialist and feminist pioneer – and his guardian, the wealthy financier and art collector Gustave Arosa. Other sections focus on Brittany, both as a mythical location in the popular imagination, and as a significant stepping-stone in Gauguin’s career. Gauguin’s complex relationship with the Impressionists and with the poets and critics of the Symbolist movement are explored. This room culminates with the Universal Exhibition held in Paris in 1889, which Gauguin marked by mounting a group exhibition at the Volpini café. However, it was the ethnographic displays at the Esplanades des Invalides, with recreations of native life drawn from France’s colonies around the world, which captured Gauguin’s imagination and stimulated his dreams of a ‘studio of the Tropics’. This is explored further in the second selection of documentary materials in Room 8, relating to Gauguin’s life from 1889–1903.