Artist Paul Gauguin in Tahiti

The French artist's obsession with French Polynesia lasted more than a decade.

Tahitian women on beach, 1891, by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), oil on canvas
••• Tahitian women on beach, 1891, by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), oil on canvas. Getty Images / DeAgostini

No artist is more indelibly tied to the South Pacific, and to Tahiti in particular, than 19th-century French painter Paul Gauguin.

From his world-famous paintings of sensual Tahitian women to his unhealthy obsession with his exotic adopted home, here are some interesting facts about his life and legacy:

Facts About Paul Gauguin and His Life

• He was born Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin in Paris on June 7, 1848 to a French father and a Spanish-Peruvian mother.

• He died on May 8, 1903, alone and impoverished and suffering from syphilis on the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands and is buried there in Calvary Cemetery in Atuona.

• From the age of three to seven, he lived in Lima, Peru, with his mother (his father died during the trip there) and then returned to France where as a teenager he attended a seminary and worked as a merchant marine.

• Gauguin's first career was as a stockbroker, which he worked at for 12 years. Painting was merely a hobby.

• Intrigued by the painters of the Impressionist movement of late 1870s, Gauguin, at age 35 and the father of five children with his Danish-born wife, gave up his business career in 1883 to devote his life to painting.

• His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

• It was 1891 when Gauguin left France and the western ideals he felt restricted by behind and moved to the island of Tahiti. He chose to live with natives far outside the capital, Papeete, where there were many European settlers.

• Gauguin's Tahitian paintings, most of them of exotic, raven-haired Tahitian women, are celebrated for their bold use of color and symbolism. They include La Orana Maria (1891), Tahitian women on Beach, (1891), The Seed of the Areoi (1892), Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), and Two Tahitian Women (1899).

• Gauguin's Tahitian masterpieces now hang in major museums and galleries around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

• Sadly, no original Gauguin paintings remain in French Polynesia. There is a rather rundown Gauguin Museum on the main island of Tahiti, but it contains solely reproductions of his work.

• Gauguin's Tahitian legacy lives on in a luxury cruise ship, the m/s Paul Gauguin, which cruises the islands year-round.

About the Author

Donna Heiderstadt is a New York City based freelance travel writer and editor who has spent her life pursuing her two main passions: writing and exploring the world.