Paul Gauguin On Solitude


Paul Gauguin Self-Portrait with Halo 1889 oil on panel National Gallery of Art

Paul Gauguin was a painter who was praised as the leader of the symbolist artists in 1891. This style of painting was inspired by the symbolist writers of the time. In a letter to symbolist poet, critic, and editor of litarary journals Charles Morice, Gauguin says,

…[ There are] two kinds of beauty: one that results from instinct and another which would come from studying. The combination of the two, with its necessary modifications, produces certainly a great and very complicated richness, which the art critic must devote himself to discover….

Art has just gone through a long period of aberration caused by physics, chemistry, mechanics and the study of nature. Artists having lost all their savagery, having lost no more instincts, one could even say imagination, went astray on every path, looking for productive elements which they did not have enough strength to create. Consequently, they act only as a disorderly crowd, they feel frightened like lost ones when they are alone. That is why solitude must not be advised for everyone, since one must have strength to be able to bear it and act alone.

There’s a lot more in this letter than Gauguin’s thoughts on solitude. An artist must learn to art alone. It is in solitude where thoughts come and go freely without the harsh priority of daily chores. When an artist learns to be alone, they gain control of their environment. Like baby turtles they must learn to get from the nest to the ocean without getting lost or snatched up on the way. This requires some instinct and once alone, it requires study. There is an art in arting alone. There is a space where artists must meet themselves and say ok we’re in this together and I’m not leaving you here to drown. It does take a faith in yourself and a great faith in your art.

According to  Gauguin thought of himself as “a savage beyond the taint of civilization.” He escaped European civilization and fled to Polynesia where he spent his life painting. All while being pressured by his family to return to business. He painted alone so alone in fact that he did not even have the support of his own wife and family Until. The. Day. He. Died.

He’s right when he says solitude requires strength. I do, however, believe that solitude should be for everyone.

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Published by Jayne

Jayne is a writer. On her free time she likes to be with her family hiking outdoors and traveling. New England is her home and place of birth. When asked what she wants to teach the world she replied, "Don't stop searching. Too many times, in my old life, I put my search aside for more 'important matters.' I didn't realize the thing I was searching for held what was most important; my soul purpose." Jayne works daily on improving her craft and at times can get down on herself, but her favorite morning mantra is "It's a new day." and that's what she strives to start with.

5 thoughts on “Paul Gauguin On Solitude

  1. WOW, that’s absolutely stunning to read about. Very intriguing thoughts from Gauguin about solitude. To me, this is interesting because complete solitude really doesn’t work for most people; there is always that facet of human and social connection that we need especially as it pertains to creative and personal life.

    “He painted alone so alone in fact that he did not even have the support of his own wife and family Until. The. Day. He. Died.” <– This is when my jaw dropped. I should have expected this fact alone based on his earlier quote, but wow, if that's not intriguing (and sad) then I don't know what is.

    Great post here. I really enjoyed reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is Lucy, you’re so right. How much human contact do we require once we reach a certain point? I do wonder. I do feel some artists master solitude enough to not be affected by solitary confinement. Or being stranded alone on an island or perhaps even strand themselves onto an island. I mean even Thearou returned to civilization.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this. So timely, especially because of the the lock-down that has forced so many of us into living alone.’ In ‘Nevermore,’ Gauguin portrays a woman lying in bed, her eyes slightly raised to eavesdrop on the gossip unfolding behind her. I think you really eloquently described the difference between this state of restless loneliness, and the peace of solitude that Gauguin wants to prescribe — for everyone, as you rightly said.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey I really appreciate this thoughtful comment. I do remember that painting and I love how you brought it into the conversation as a comparison of different types of alone. It made me kinda excited to read what you had to say. I totally agree with the way you compared the two. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. They made my day. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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