Born Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin in Paris, France, he descended from Spanish settlers in South America and the viceroy of Peru, and spent his early childhood in Lima. After his education in Orleans, France, Gauguin spent six years sailing around the world in the Merchant Marine and then in the French Navy. Upon his return to France in 1870, he took a job as a broker's assistant. His guardian, Gustave Arosa, a successful businessman and art collector, introduced Gauguin to the impressionists.
A successful stockbroker, Gauguin became a collector and amateur painter. By 1884 Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, where he unsuccessfully pursued a business career. Driven to paint full-time, he returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family in Denmark. Without adequate subsistence, his wife and children were forced to return to her family.
In 1891, financially destitute, he sailed to the Tropics to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional." He remained first in Tahiti and later in the Marquesas Islands for most of the rest of his life, returning to France one time only.
He was a very important post-impressionist French painter, whose work helped provide the basis of modern art. Gauguin's bold experimentation with coloring led directly to the fauvist style of the 20th century.
He is buried in the Atuona Cemetery, Atuona, Hiva-Oa, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia.
The record price paid for a Gauguin painting is US$35 million.
Among his approximately 150 significant works are: