Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Figure 1.--Gauguin entitled this portrait a "M. Loulou." It is a portrait of Louis Le Ray, the son of a Breton friend. The boy wears a velvet Fauntleroy suit and lace collar with long uncurled hair. It was painted about 1890.

Paul Gauguin was one of the foremost painters of the Post-impressionist movement. Together with Cezanne and Van Gogh, they reshaped modern art. He was born in Paris during 1848--the year of revolution throughout Europe. This was symbolic as Gauguin was to help revolutionize French art. His father was a journalist from Orleans. His mother was partly Peruvian. He had a cosmopolitan childhood, growing up in Lima, Orleans, and Paris. Paul himself was a seaman, served in the French Navy during the Franco-Prussian War, and worked as a stock broker and successful bank agent. He did not begin to paint until 1873 after his marriage. He exhibited his first work in 1876 and begun to revolutionize modern art. I only know one boy he painted, the son of a friend, but it is a wonderful piece.


Gauguin was the son of a journalist, Clovis Gaughin, from Orleans and of a mother who was half French and half Peruvian Creole. Aline Chazal was the daughter of a Flora Tristan, an early socialist author who became known as "The Worker's Saint". Aline had a rocky childhood. Her father wnt mad because of adversity, but the French legal system was so biased that authorities kept returning the girl to him. Only aftervhe shot his wife was Aline returned to her mother. She was only 19 when her mother died and was rescued from povery by a friend of her mother, the famed female author George Sand. [Sweetman, pp. 15-19.]


Paul was born in Paris on June 7, 1848. He had a cosmopolitan childhood, growing up in Lima, Orleans, and Paris. Paul's father was an outspoken opponent of Louis Napolleon and as the Bonapartists sized the political initative, the family decided that it was wise to leave France for Peru where Clovis could persue his career (1849). It was a rough crossing and Gauguin claims that the ship being tossed about during an especially severe storm resulted in his earliest childhood memory. Unfortunalely Clovis died during the journey and Aline found herself alone with two small children, Paul and his slightly older sister Marie. They were taken in by their great-uncle Pio Tristán Mosscoso who had earlier taken in Aline's mother. (He later rejected her because of her socialist writings.) Paul spent 6 years in Lima getting to know his mother's family. Paul's memories of Lima were quite varied. He remembers a lunatic that was chained on the roof of their home. Paul was intrigued by the gryphons in the central fountain. The family lived in considerable luxury, a palacial home and numerous servants. As a revolution developed in Peru and when it became apparent that Napoleon III was not as much a threat as invisdioned, Aline brought the children back to France (1855). Paul was frustrated once back in France because he only spoke Spanish.

Peruvian Art

Biographers differ on the importance of his childhood days in Lima. Some largely ignore it. Other's see an important Peruvian influence in his art. Paul arrived in Peru at an interesting point in the art history of Peru and the Americas. Until the mid-19th century, the native Americans and their art were considered barbaric and uncultured. Elites in Peru had European tastes and look to Europe, especially Spain and France, for culture. Beginning at about this time, Europeans began to take an interest in pre-Colombian art. At the same time, politicans with native American blood began to enter poltical life. (The same thing was occurring in Mexico where it would be the Native-American president, Benito Juarez, who would oust the French after Napoleon III's ill-fated colonial adventure.) The European interest in pre-Colombian artifacts helped stimulate an interest in Peru, Mexico, and other Latin American countries in their own artistic heritage. Aline was interested in the pottery and figurine artifacts availabe at very low cost at the time and used them to decorate their Lima home. They undoubtedly influenced Paul who remembered them as an adult, describing them probably inaccurately as Inca. [Sweetman, p. 26.]

Boyhood Clothing

We have few details at this time on how he was dressed as a boy.


Not a great deal of information is available on Paul's early education which began when he returned to France. Speaking only Spanish must have been a problen during the fuirst year or two. One teacher is reported to have said that he would prove either to be an idiot or a genius. His most important educational experience occurred when he was sent to board at the Peyit Séminaire de la Chapelle-Saint-Mesim when he was 11 years old. This was a school intended to train priests which according to one biographer, along with a great deal of religious instruction came a high standard of education. [Sweetman, p. 30.] Monseigneur Félix Dupanloop played an important role in molding Paul's academic outlook, but had little impact on his morals. The boys were awakened at 5:45 AM. Their lessons began at ^:30 AM and continued until 7:00 PM with breaks for chapel, exercise, and meals. The day ended with a session for religious study. They wnt to bed at 8:00 PM. This was quite a rigorous program. Paul later described that under the close scrutiny that he turned inward. Paul rejected the religious content of the program at an early point. In particular he came to reject hypocrisy. He never learned to spell, but he came to enjoy literature. The academic also included drawing and this was Paul's introduction to the study of art. [Sweetman, pp. 28-32.]

Early Life

Gauguin had a rather adventurous early life. At the age of 17 he left home to be a seaman in the merchant marine. He served in the French Navy during the Franco-Prussian War.


A fter his early adventures, he worked hard to become a successful Parisian stockbroker. He settled into a comfortable bourgeois existence with his wife and five children.


Gauguin in 1874, after meeting the artist Camille Pissarro and viewing the first impressionist exhibition, he became a collector and amateur painter. He exhibited with the impressionists in 1876, 1880, 1881, 1882, and 1886. His first painting to be exhibited was a landscape. He gradually developed his characteristic style. Instead of the soft atmospheric style, divided color tones, and subjective point of view of the impressionists, he painted strong contours, flat tones and symbolic or psychological content. He made the momentous decision in 1883 to give up his secure middle-class existence to devote himself fully to painting; his wife and children, without adequate subsistence, were forced to return to her family. From 1886 to 1891 Gauguin lived mainly in rural Bretagne (except for a trip to Panama and Martinique from 1887 to 1888), where he was the center of a small group of experimental painters known as the school of Pont-Aven.

Boys' Clothes

Gauguin paints very few boys or European children. he only serious painting I know of is the one shown here. It is Louis Le Ray, the son of a friend pictured wearing a velvet Fauntleroy suit and lace collar. It looks to be a knicker suit. I am guessing it was painted about 1890, but I do not know the precise date. Louis wears long, but not curled hair--a popular common style in France for boys.

The South Pacific

Gauguin in 1891, ruined and in debt, sailed for the South Seas to escape European civilization, showing his distaste for Europe and "everything that is artificial and conventional." Except for one visit to France from 1893 to 1895, he remained in the Tropics for the rest of his life, first in Tahiti and later in the Marquesas Islands. Gauguin left France on 3 July 1895, never returned. In France there were even false reports that he had been stricken by leprosy (he was diagnosed with an advanced case of syphilis). The essential characteristics of his style changed little in the South Seas; he retained the qualities of expressive color, denial of perspective, and thick, flat forms. Under the influence of the tropical setting and Polynesian culture, however, Gauguin's paintings became more powerful, while the subject matter became more distinctive, the scale larger, and the compositions more simplified. His subjects ranged from scenes of ordinary life, such as Tahitian Women, or On the Beach (1891, Muse d'Orsay, Paris), to brooding scenes of superstitious dread, such as Spirit of the Dead Watching (1892, Albright-Knox Art Gallery). Despite the constat struggle with disease and poverty, he executed some of his most powerful works in the last years of his life, full of barbaric imagery and exotic color. Gauguin's masterpiece was the monumental allegory Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where Are We Going? (1897, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which he painted shortly before his failed suicide attempt. A modest stipend from a Parisian art dealer sustained him until his death at Atuona in the Marquesas on May 9, 1903. Having fallen out with the local bishop, he was denied a Christian burial, and because some of his works were deemed indecent they were burned.


Sweetman, David. Paul Gauguin: A Life (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995), 600p.


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Created: June 21, 1999
Spell checked: July 30, 1999
Last updated: J5:56 PM 10/11/2004