When we speak of modern art it would be difficult not to mention the name of Paul Gauguin: Particularly when discussing some of the most prominent twentieth century modern art movements such as Impressionism, Cubism and Abstraction. Even so, it is the Sythetist style that Gauguin is most specifically connected as it was he, Louis Anquetin and Amile Henri Bernard who were pioneers of this somewhat overlooked and yet essential movement of the late nineteenth century arts.
Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin was born in 1848 and died at the relatively early age of fifty five. While his artistic life was cut short it was a prolific and eventful one. Today, Paul Gauguin's valiant and adventurous experimentation with color is seen as the most important with regards to the Synthetist style. Synthetism was a word used by those artists who expressively combined styles and wanted to clarify the differences between their work and the paintings of the Impressionists.
The artistic term Synthetism is a late nineteenth century derivative of the French verb "synthesizer" - That is to combine several elements (ideas, influences, objects etc) to form something new. To a Synthetist artist this combination was primarily directed at the appearance of forms: Line and color: As well as the artist's personal response to those forms. Sythetism placed emphasis on the two dimensional plane. The techniques and theories associated with it are very different to Impressionism: Despite the visual results leading people to believe they are associated. Hence, those artists who experimented with these theories believed it necessary to differentiate the style with a specific term.
The French painter Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943) whose artistic theories made a notable contribution to both the Cubist and Abstract modern art movements summarized the theory in 1890. It is well to remember that a picture before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.
There are several well noted Synthetist oil paintings by Gauguin created between 1888 and 1890: The first and most well known of all almost certainly being Vision after the Sermon - Jacob Wrestling with the angel. This oil on canvas art work was painted in Pont-Aven in Brittany during 1888. Today it is on permanent exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland.
True to the theories of Sythetism it seeks to reveal the inner truth of the subject. The figures are highly stylised and the special perspective is two dimensional and so relatively shallow. A biblical scene it is depicted as a vision - The vision is that of the Breton women depicted in the immediate foreground. Their vision is Jacob wrestling with an angel in the top right hand corner of the painting. The placement of the tree separates the reality of the women from their imagined one. The bold flat background of this oil painting is greatly reminiscent of traditional Japanese art works: Gauguin like many of the Impressionists was fascinated by Japanese wood cuts. And certainly, Gauguin was greatly influential with regards to this technique becoming an accepted art form.
Apart from his work Gauguin is also noted for his stormy friendship with Vincent Van Gogh. Theirs was certainly a volatile relationship: Both being apt to depression and threats of suicide. Their experimentation with color and light: Gauguin's keen interest in what would become Impressionism also being their common ground. Gauguin went to stay with Van Gogh in the Yellow House in 1888. Another common ground for the two was Theodore Van Gogh: The younger brother and art dealer of Vincent.
Gauguin spent around two months with Van Gogh during which time his interest in Impressionism was replaced by cynicism. This resulted in a serious of heated arguments between the two. Today, this visit has become legendary for several reasons: The Sunflower series of oil paintings Van Gogh made to greet Gauguin: And the razor attack he made upon Gauguin on the night before Christmas Eve - after which Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his ear and was duly hospitalized.
During his life Gauguin received little recognition. Akin to many artists his work became popular a short time after his death. Today the canvas art works of Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin are rarely for placed on sale and invariably fetch millions of dollars at auction when they are. His works are recognized around the world and prints of his work adorn homes everywhere.