Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was born on June 7, 1848 in Paris; he was one of the leading painters of the Postimpressionist period.
In 1849 the political activities of his father, a journalist, forced the family into exile. The Gauguin family set off for Peru. His father died during the crossing from France. Gauguin's mother, of Peruvian descent on her mother's side, and her two children moved in with a great grand uncle and his family in Lima. At the age of 17 Gauguin joined the French merchant navy, traveling around the world for six years. After the death of his mother in 1867, he settled down with his wealthy guardian, Gustave Arosa, who had a large art collection that included works by Delacroix. This period in time shaped Gauguin's interest in the arts. He started collecting Impressionist paintings, and became an amateur painter.

In 1883 the bank that employed Gauguin experienced financial difficulties, and he found himself free to paint full-time. Much of his work during this period was influenced by the Impressionists, especially Pissarro. In 1884 Gauguin went to paint at the artists haven of Pont-Aven. Influenced during this period by Van Gogh, Seurat, and Degas, he began to adopt his own independent style.
In 1887, Gauguin left France for Panama. For a short time he worked as a labourer for the Panama Canal Company. He soon left Panama for Martinique, where he continued his development as an artist. In 1888 he returned to Brittany. His experience in Martinique broadened his vision and enabled him to develop original interpretations of scenes in Brittany.
In October, 1888 he traveled to Vincent van Gogh's home in Arles, France. His stay was both traumatic and fertile for both artists. They learned a great deal from each other but were often at odds. Gauguin returned to Paris in December after Van Gogh's "ear incident."

Gauguin's break with the Impressionists came when he painted "Vision after the Sermon," where he tried to depict the inner feelings of his subjects. This painting also marked the start of a new painting style that came to be known as "Symbolism."
Although this period had been highly productive for Gauguin, he was deeply depressed and in 1891 abandoned his family to seek an idyllic life in the South Pacific Islands. He stayed briefly in Tahiti's capital, Papeete, and then relocated to a remote part of the island.
He lived in Tahiti from 1891 to 1893, and again from 1895 until his death. In Tahiti his painting style evolved to reflect the Pacific Islands' primitive forms and brilliant colors. His striking images of Polynesian women rank among the most beautiful paintings of the modern age. In 1904, Gauguin, dissipated by drug-addiction, died of a heart attack on Hiva Oa Island in the Marquesas in French Polynesia. .... 

In Tahiti Gauguin made some very interesting woodcuts; after his death some of the woodblocks he cut were left on the island. Only in 1910 Štefánik discovered them, in that way he rescued them. He took them to Paris, where his friend, the artist Tavik František Šimon, printed the blocks. www.tfsimon.com /Stefanik-note.htm

Essay by T F Šimon , published in Hollar (1937)
Source (in Czech):  T.F. Šimon, Štefánik po Gauguinovych stopach na Tahiti, in Hollar XIII/1937, s.1.
English version by Catharine Bentinck. August 2009.

Štefánik in search for Gauguin's traces on Tahiti. Written by T.F. Šimon.

In the comparatively small house on the highest storey of a corner building with apartments in Rue Le Clerc in Paris, where Štefánik lived his last years, the interior did not look like that of a learned astronomer, but rather as a small museum of a private collector, or of a notable traveller. Of his trips to foreigner countries, which Štefánik undertook, he brought, except many reports of his astronomical works, also many different nature - and ethnographic objects. These objects were displayed and hung up everywhere in his bachelors apartment for admiration.
Except his oriental carpets and several textile tissues, Arabic and Turkish weapons with inlay, popular ceramics, bronze bibelots, and exotic jewels, he also took along many pearls, with which he with pleasure played. There were processed and unprocessed precious stones, rare shells, bunches corals and precious minerals, too.
Between these exotic subjects, with which his house was filled, in the living room his special literature was in the library and there was a work table. In the small backroom of his house used as a kitchen, was a beautiful panoramic view to north-eastern section of Paris. Here was a space for storing different parts of apparatuses, several telescopes, a large lens of a condenser and all discarded lumber. In the time that Štefánik in Paris arrived, we were a small group of Czech artists, fairly established Parisians, who were together a sociable, friendly group.

When Štefánik met us, he was accepted by us immediately, and so a group was founded with a Bohemian character. We were all collectors of art, Paris with its many  interesting antique shops did attracted us. Our friend Milan Štefánik, was also affected with such hobby and especially when he was urged to furnish his apartment. With him we went into Paris, looking for interesting pieces of furniture, drapery, service, pots and pans at art-dealers or auction houses like ‘Hotel Drouet’.
When Štefánik, preparing his first trip to Oceania to the island Tahiti, where he was sent to by the French company  “Bureau des Langitude” for observation of the comet Halley and performing other scientific studies and observations, he was well informed by us about the tragic history of the prominent painter Paul Gauguin. Gauguin stayed on Tahiti and made there his most typical artworks and ended his restless, passionate and adventurous life on the Island Domingo.

At our many meetings in the cafés and studios, where Štefánik came with pleasure, we discussed the contemporary exhibitions and art in general. I remember that Štefánik sometimes went with us to contemporary exhibitions, organized by the best Parisian businessmen like Durand Ruel, Vollard, Bernheim, Druet etc. At a meeting in café Viennois on the Grand Boulevard, that we often visited,  I had suggested to visit an excellent exposition of Asian Art, mainly Chinese and Japanese, that was organized in the passages of the art-auction house Hotel Drouet. After this visit we went along the Grand Boulevard to the Madeleine, to visit gallery Bernheim that just had opened an exhibition with paintings by Gauguin. There were about 30 paintings exhibited by this famous artist. The impression of these paintings, most of them from Oceania, was fabulous. He created harmonious stylistic paintings of tropical landscapes. Also Štefánik was affected by these artworks and considered to make a journey overseas, he dreamt about the exotic and primitive beauty of the Island Tahiti.

After some time he really left for a trip overseas, we asked Štefánik to search for traces of Gauguin’s artworks. Štefánik left in 1910 to Tahiti, where about 20 years ago Paul Gauguin lived, who was stressed by society conventions and fled the civilized world for a happier life and more individual freedom. He left his wife and children, friends, and societies in Brittany. Miles away from the civilized world, our astronomer Štefánik was on travel to do his scientific work, results were important for his future scientific and social stand. He longed as Gauguin for a glamorous and quiet paradise. Away from the society and its existence. There was the same disappointment as with Gauguin, when he became to know the reality. The inhabitants were brought civilization and were robbed of their paradise. Štefánik only met a few friends among the French settlers, who understand him, and helped him to build his conservatorium, offices of a worship, together with the native inhabitants with whom he became befriended with.
After a further acquaintance and friendly contact with the Islanders Štefánik succeeded to find around the barn of a native woman, in the fence of a courtyard, hidden wooden shells with relief woodcarvings by Gauguin. After further search he also found there a rich carved box, that he probably made for his tobacco. Somewhere else he discovered a big relief carve work, and so he had obtained a decent collection.

It is not to oversee Gauguin’s artwork and I do not know if there is a detailed list of all his carve print work. His works is printed in small editions and spread all over the world and came in different collections. It is for sure, that these wood engravings, of which replica’s are made by me in Paris and by Kobliha in Prague are from Gauguin and published in the magazine Hollar, are original.
Gauguin was a journalist and editor of a magazine. In this magazine he, besides his offensive polemics and fierce satire, published illustrations of his wood engravings. First the magazine was called Les Guêpes, that means Wasps, later it was renamed to “Le Sourire”. He published and issued it himself. The first page was decorated with his engravings, and showed the name of the magazine. There were some variants of the name. Most of the wood engravings were created on small planks  with a longitudinal section, with semi-circular chisels and needles.

After Štefániks return from Tahiti he asked me to print the blocks. It was not easy for me, because the blocks were dirty and damaged. I adopted this work with great pleasure, and after a patient and careful cleanup and restoration, I succeeded to make prints with ink on Japanese paper. In that time Štefánik needed money, after returning home in Paris. Therefore he decided to sell some of the things he brought from Oceania and thought to make money from selling Gauguin’s prints. From Polynesian he had brought sculptures (rare exemplars), sought-after by collectors. Nothing stood in his way, to offer the subjects on the market.
We first went to Bernheim, a gallery we used to go to the past to see Gauguin’s paintings, to offer the examples . The gallery holder showed interest but unfortunately he had no interest in buying it. He had interest in buying oil paintings by Gauguin, but of course that we could not offer him. We went with the subjects to another well known art dealer in oriental art, especially Japanese, in Rue St. Honore. But also with no result. Finally I did send photo’s to a good businessman and publisher V.G. Dorens in Amsterdam. With him I had a friendly contact. I did not even got an answer at all. Štefánik was really disappointed, and had to find another source for income.
In 1911 I went to Paris to discuss with Jan Štenc the publication of my album “Prague’, and promised Štefánik to take the prints by Gauguin with me to offer these to the Modern Gallery in Prague. We discussed a price, I remember 500 crones. I had an appointment with professor Sucharda, gave him the photographs and prints in the hope he would sell all of it in Prague. But unfortunately also in Prague there was no interest in purchasing it.

Returned in Paris I had to tell the tragic news to Štefánik, who was busy with new plans for his work. Gauguin’s artworks remained in the collection of Štefánik in his pleasant house on the top floor of a Parisian flat building in Rue le Clerc. In his appartment he kept many carpets, beautiful drapery, precious porcelain, bronze, bunches of corals and minerals, and mysterious idols in stone. Until the fate of tragic death of the astronomer, collector, and fighter for freedom.

(Nowadays the blocks of Gauguin are in the collection of the National Gallery in Prague).


GAUGUIN Paul (1848-1903), "Femmes, animaux et feuillages"
woodcut, 161x334 mm, undated, Prague (1930), unsigned, signed PG in the bottom centre (legible only on original print). This print belongs to a series of Gauguin prints created most probably in the years 1895-1903, the author himself took the blocks to Tahiti where they were discovered by M. R.
Štefánik during his trip in 1910 and subsequently brought to Europe. T. F. Šimon printed this series after 1911 in Paris, later they were printed again in Prague around 1930, wood cut lengthways 20 mm thick
GAUGUIN Paul (1848-1903), "Te Farure" (= Ici on fait l'amour).
woodcut, 66x102 mm, undated, Prague (1930), unsigned, signed PGO in the block. This print belongs to a series of Gauguin prints created most probably in the years 1895-1903, the author himself took the blocks to Tahiti where they were discovered by M. R.
Štefánik during his trip in 1910 and subsequently brought to Europe. T. F. Šimon printed this series after 1911 in Paris, later they were printed again in Prague around 1930, wood cut lengthways 23 mm thick, torso of the original block 355x205 mm
GAUGUIN Paul (1848-1903), "Woman under a tree".
woodcut, 100-135x323 mm, undated, Prague (1930), unsigned. This print belongs to a series of Gauguin prints created most probably in the years 1895-1903, the author himself took the blocks to Tahiti where they were discovered by M. R.
Štefánik during his trip in 1910 and subsequently brought to Europe. T. F. Šimon printed this series after 1911 in Paris, later they were printed again in Prague around 1930, wood cut lengthways 22 mm thick.