Life and Times 1889–1903 Room 8

Paul Gauguin Tate Modern exhibition banner

This second selection of documentary materials follows Gauguin’s life from 1889 to 1903, as well as looking at the development of his posthumous reputation. This period was dominated by his two journeys to Tahiti and his final years in the Marquesas. Gauguin’s fascination with the Tropics was not unique. Travel writers such as Pierre Loti, ethnographic museums and exhibitions reflected a widespread fascination with other cultures that went hand in hand with late nineteenth-century colonialism. However, Gauguin was unusual for his times in trying to immerse himself in Tahitian culture and folklore, going beyond a superficial exoticism.

Even before he left Paris, his self-imposed exile assumed legendary status and was celebrated at a farewell banquet hosted by the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. The myth flourished in his absence but truly came into its own after his death through the work of writers such as Victor Segalen and Somerset Maugham, whose best-selling novel The Moon and Sixpence was loosely based on the artist’s life.