The Moon And Sixpence: Life of Paul Gauguin


The full name of the French painter Paul Gauguin was Eugène-Henri-Paul Gauguin. He was born in Paris (1848), and after an entire life and a self-imposed exile, he died in 1903 in French Polynesia. His art has been categorized into a wide range of disciplines starting from Post-Impressionist and Synthetist to Symbolist. 

His life was the inspiration for the novel “The Moon and Sixpence” by W. Somerset Maugham. This novel was published in 1919. The character of Strickland is a solitary, sociopathic, and destructive genius and is related to a mythological version of Gauguin’s life.

In this article, we’ll look at the real-life of painter Paul Gauguin. We’ll also look at similarities in Gauguin’s life and Maugham’s character, Strickland.

The Moon and Sixpence

In W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, “The Moon and Sixpence,” the story is told by a first-person narrator who provides insights into the mind and soul of the main character, Charles Strickland. He is a middle-aged English stockbroker who left his family to become an artist. He later settles in Tahiti. The narrative is based on the life of the French painter Paul Gauguin.

There are definite similarities between Gauguin’s life and Charles Strickland’s character in the novel. Gauguin worked as a stockbroker before leaving his wife and family to devote his life to art. He also later left Europe for Tahiti to pursue his career. However, in Gauguin’s life, things didn’t happen as brutal as in the novel.

Before Gauguin Artist Career

Gauguin’s father was from Orléans, and his mother was of Peruvian and French descent. In 1848 the family moved to Peru, but Gauguin’s father died en route. His mother stayed with her children in Lima for four years and then took the family back to France.

When Paul Gauguin was 17, he enlisted in the merchant marine and sailed worldwide for six years. Unfortunately, his mother died in 1867. His legal guardian released him from the merchant marine and arranged for him a position as a stockbroker. And he married a Danish woman named Mette Sophie Gad in 1873.

After his marriage, he started painting with a fellow stockbroker, Emile Schuffenecker. This was the beginning of his professional career as an artist.

Beginning of Career as Painter

Gauguin began receiving artistic instruction, and he used a studio where he could draw from a model. In 1876 one of his paintings, “Landscape at Viroflay,” was accepted by the Salon for exhibition at their annual show in France.

He was very interested in the artworks of the avant-garde movement of Impressionism. He assembled a personal collection of paintings by such figures as Cézanne, Manet, Monet, and Pissarro.

After he had met Pissarro in the middle 1800s, he studied under him. He struggled to master painting and drawing techniques at first. But in 1880, he was included in the fifth Impressionist exhibition. He also exhibited in the following Impressionist exhibitions in 1881 and 1882. During the holidays, he spent time with Pissarro and Cézanne and started to make progress with his painting.

The Period After Gauguin Lost His Stockbroker Job.

Because of the crashing of the French stock market in 1882, Paul Gauguin lost his stockbroker’s job. He took this as an opportunity to paint more. He tried to get employed by art dealers for an income but was not successful. He continued to travel to the countryside to paint with Pissarro.

In 1884 he moved his family to Rouen and later to Denmark. There he sought the support of his wife’s family. The family struggled financially, but he continued with his painting and participated in the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886, where he showed 19 paintings.

But his artworks were overshadowed by other painters. This frustrated him, and he started to make ceramic vessels for sale, but he was not very successful with that. He then traveled to Pont-Aven in the Brittany region, seeking a simpler life.

He sailed to the French Caribbean island of Martinique with the painter intending to “live like a savage.” Check painter Paul Gauguin’s artworks painted on Martinique. You’ll see that paintings like “Tropical Vegetation” and “By the Sea” showed that Gauguin was moving away from the Impressionist technique.

Tropical Vegetation – Paul Gauguin

As you learn about the Gauguin artist’s life, you discover that he was working with blocks of color in large planes during this period. When he returned to France in 1887, his Peruvian ancestry developed as an element of “primitivism” in his nature and artistic vision.

Road to Tahiti and Hiva

Paul Gauguin mentored many young artists for a few years, stayed with Van Gogh for a time, and alternated between living in Paris and Brittany. He then found Pont-Aven too much spoiled by tourists, and he relocated to a remote village, Le Pouldu. He focused on the ancient monuments and relics of medieval religion, His famous painting “The Yellow Christ” is an excellent example from that period. 

Most of his works from that period suggested that he longed for a more removal environment to work. So, with a grant from the French government, he traveled to Tahiti. However, when he arrived in Tahiti, he was disappointed by the extent to which the authentic culture of Tahiti was corrupted by colonization.

Paul Gauguin then attempted to immerse himself in what he believed were the authentic aspects of the culture. Examples of his artworks from that period include “Fatata te Miti” (“Near the Sea”) and “Manao tupapau” (“The Spirit of the Dead Watching”).

Fatata Te Miti Aka By The Sea – Paul Gauguin

He went back to Paris, but his work was not well-received, and he returned to Tahiti in 1895. However, he was still looking for more remote places and, in 1901, moved to the island of Hiva in French Polynesia, where he died in 1903.


When you learn about Gauguin’s artistic life, you can see that the main character in W. Somerset Maugham’s novel is based on the life of the French painter Paul Gauguin. But the novel’s character is more related to a mythological version of Gauguin’s life.