Paul's legitimate son, Emil, wrote the preface to this book, and commented on the legend (myth) of his father which
implies that he one day woke up and deserted his family and his job as a stockbroker, moved to Paris, then to the South Seas and became a painter. (See
Maugham's novel supposedly based on Gauguin's life, The Moon and Sixpence.) Emil says
it was nothing of the sort, that his father (irregularly) kept in touch with them after he left, and had been dabbling in painting for years, and that his
mother agreed to let him go. Which is more accurate, Emil or the myth? We may never know. In any case, this revealing journal certainly portrays a man who
lived outside the norms of society and was definitely a free spirit. Emil also comments that another of his father's journals,
Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal was revised by M. Charles Morice and hardly retained
his father's spirit. I can attest to that, having read it and thinking that Gauguin sounded almost "conventional." Gauguin was anything but conventional!
This journal was written after he had moved to Marquesas, January to February, 1903, also the year of his death. Much of it was written during a cyclone which left him flooded and stranded in his cottage. It is a hodge-podge of thoughts, looking back throughout his life. According to Wikipedia, he died from "an overdose of morphine and possibly a heart attack" in May, 1903. There is speculation that he may have had syphilis, but there is no evidence to support that. He was an alcoholic, however, which contributed to his death.
In his journal, Gauguin certainly talks frequently of his love of sex and disdain toward what is considered "civilized" behavior and morals of the (Catholic) church. He was known for his primitive art, but his whole being, it seems, found its belonging in a "primitive" lifestyle. He moved to French Polynesia to escape what he considered ridiculous laws and rules of society, yet he never escaped them. While much of his writing is irreverently humorous, his criticism of French rule over the island natives was dead serious. In fact, he openly sided with the natives and libeled the governor, for which he was fined and sentenced to prison. (He died before he served his prison sentence.) He also discusses his (rocky) relationship with Vincent Van Gogh, who suffered from mental illness, and discusses art in general and the criticism against his works. (He was not recognized as a master until his death.) He talks about his early childhood living in Peru with his uncle's family, (his father died during their voyage from Paris), and his beautiful grandmother, whom he adored. He jumps back and forth from Europe to Marquesas, and to other life experiences as one's thoughts may be scattered during a daydream. It is all quite revealing and interesting.
Though many may have considered him immoral, (and certainly in some ways he did himself, because he judged himself as both good and evil and probably never really outgrew his Catholic upbringing), his support of native life and the native peoples exposed his compassionate side. Prostitution was so rampant on the islands that it was not even considered prostitution, but a way of life. As mentioned above, he harbored intense resentment for French rule, and missionaries, who insisted on making the indigenous peoples behave like "civilized society." He speaks highly of the (mostly) peaceful and gentle qualities of the natives, and their mistreatment through the extremely corrupted judicial and political system set up by the French on the islands. His comment on these issues are the most fascinating parts of the journal, of which he writes with passion.
In all, for anyone who is interested in the life of Paul Gauguin, and wishes to probe deeper into the personality that created such intriguing art, this book is a must read.
Pictured below is one of Gauguin's most renowned works, "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" It is found in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
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