Paul Gauguin was an intelligent, well educated individual whose personality has been much discussed. He is seen as a more stable individual than his friend, Vincent, but there are still some intriguing quotes attributed to him during his career. Below are some of the more relevant quotes from his life which help tell us more about the man behind the paintings. He was also well travelled and open to understanding more about other cultures. Additionally, he studied art in detail and liked to learn from other artists from both the same period as him and also more historical ones. He was truly a well rounded individual and therefore his quotes come from a considered and well developed mind which was not concerned with following convention other than when it made sense to him to do so.

The artist's decision to move abroad underlined his eventual rejection of western life, something he wanted to distance himself from both physically but also stylistically within his paintings. He thoroughly became a part of everyday life in his new found home in French Polynesia and provided the ruling authorities with several problems when standing up against them on occasion. Even within such a peaceful environment he was incapable of avoiding conflict, and perhaps this side to his character helped to drive the developments in his career. His biggest achievement was probably in how Primitivism became an accepted art form, with many others then working in the manner in the years after his death. Even today, his life and career stand out as remarkable for his strength of character and willingness to take an alternative approach to life, as compared to those of similar backgrounds.

Famous Quotes by Paul Gauguin

We never really know what stupidity is until we have experimented on ourselves.

I shut my eyes in order to see.

Life is hardly more than a fraction of a second. Such a little time to prepare oneself for eternity!

Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.

A critic at my house... asks to see my drawings. My drawings! Never! They are my letters, my secrets.

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.

There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.

Concentrate your strengths against your competitor's relative weaknesses.

Life has no meaning unless one lives it with a will, at least to the limit of one's will. Virtue, good, evil are nothing but words, unless one takes them apart in order to build something with them; they do not win their true meaning until one knows how to apply them.

Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.

Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?

It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable color to every object; beware of this stumbling block.

We never really know what stupidity is until we have experimented on ourselves.

In art, all who have done something other than their predecessors have merited the epithet of revolutionary; and it is they alone who are masters.

No one is good; no one is evil; everyone is both, in the same way and in different ways. It is so small a thing, the life of a man, and yet there is time to do great things, fragments of the common task.

Quotes about Paul Gauguin by Art Historians and Fellow Artists

Gauguin was faced with increasing poverty after retiring from stockbroking in 1883 and in 1891 he left Paris to work in Tahiti, where many of his most famous paintings were produced ('Nevermore', 1897, London, Courtauld Institute Galleries). He returned to Paris in 1893, but in 1895 went back to the South Seas and in 1901 moved to the Marquesas Islands, where he died. Public recognition of his talent came posthumously with an exhibition of his work in Paris in 1906.

The National Gallery, UK

Seeking the kind of direct relationship to the natural world that he witnessed in various communities of French Polynesia and other non-western cultures, Gauguin treated his painting as a philosophical meditation on the ultimate meaning of human existence, as well as the possibility of religious fulfillment and answers on how to live closer to nature.

His work was influential on the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and he is well known for his relationship with Vincent and Theo van Gogh. Gauguin's art became popular after his death, partially from the efforts of dealer Ambroise Vollard, who organized exhibitions of his work late in his career and assisted in organizing two important posthumous exhibitions in Paris.


Gauguin was one of the key participants during the last decades of the 19th century in a European cultural movement that has since come to be referred to as Primitivism. The term denotes the Western fascination for less industrially-developed cultures, and the romantic notion that non-Western people might be more genuinely spiritual, or closer in touch with elemental forces of the cosmos, than their comparatively "artificial" European and American counterparts.

Paul Gauguin styled himself and his art as “savage.” Although he began his artistic career with the Impressionists in Paris, during the late 1880s he fled farther and farther from urban civilization in search of an edenic paradise where he could create pure, “primitive” art. Yet his self-imposed exile to the South Seas was not so much an escape from Paris as a bid to become the new leader of the Parisian avant-garde. Gauguin cultivated and inhabited a dual image of himself as, on the one hand, a wolfish wild man and on the other, a sensitive martyr for art. His notoriety helped to promote his astonishing work, which freed color from mimetic representation and distorted form for expressive purposes. Gauguin pioneered the Symbolist art movement in France and set the stage for Fauvism and Expressionism.

Cindy Kang

Primitivism was an art movement of late 19th-century painting and sculpture, characterized by exaggerated body proportions, animal totems, geometric designs and stark contrasts. The first artist to systematically use these effects and achieve broad public success was Paul Gauguin.[229] The European cultural elite discovering the art of Africa, Micronesia, and Native Americans for the first time were fascinated, intrigued and educated by the newness, wildness and the stark power embodied in the art of those faraway places. Like Pablo Picasso in the early days of the 20th century, Gauguin was inspired and motivated by the raw power and simplicity of the so-called Primitive art of those foreign cultures.