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Paul Gaugin Artworks Inspire the Historical Fiction Novel – “The Moon and Sixpence”

If you are a lover of and familiar with Paul Gauguin artworks, then the historical fiction novel  “The Moon and Sixpence” by  Somereset Maugham is for you.

In this novel, Paul Gauguin is loosely portrayed as Charles Strickland

The book is written in a first person by the main character, Charles Strickland, a egoistic pursuer of a painting career. Strickland in fact, is based loosely on the French artist, Paul Gauguin, who died nearly a decade before the novel’s publication.

Paul Gauguin paintings
Paul Gauguin Paintings [Public Domain]

Was Paul Gauguin Prepared To Do Anything to Become a Painter?

The novel is a character study of how far a true artist will go for the sake of his art. Not only how much he will endure, but how much pain he will inflict upon others.

This novel also explores the theme of the nature of obsession for the extreme creative urge (similar to the obsession behind Paul Gauguin’s artworks)

And indeed Strickland is obsessed! The main character Strickland (like with Paul Gauguin) suddenly leaves his wife and children in his early 40s. He abandons his family in order to pursue his dream of painting. He leaves them without any remorse or regret. In fact, he never even contacts them again.

You cannot like Maugham’s character, Strickland, nor can you truly understand what makes him tick.

What is success? One that is acquired inwardly or outwardly?

One of the important questions Maugham raises in this novel is what makes up success? Who gets to decide if you are successful? Is it truly about how much you acquire outwardly or how much you acquire inwardly? 

The author,  Somereset Maugham, wants us to consider that perhaps we lose the way in life, not knowing what is really important. Often we  strive for what society expects from us instead of the things that we yearn for in our dreams.

None of us desire to emulate the egoistic, selfish and hurtful Strickland (or Gauguin) character. Many of us wouldn’t want to come close to a character like them. However, the book does make us think about the complex choice of paving our own path or following the rules and propriety of society.

Paul Gauguin painting
Paul Gauguin Paintings [Public Domain]

Should such a creative genius be admired or shunned?

The book also makes you question the issue of how much society should forgive a great and talented artist, who is also a despicable human being. Should his admirers look the other way, thinking since he is no longer around and no more harm can be done by him?

These are all complicated themes and still very relevant today.

I assure you that after reading this novel, you will not look at Paul Gauguin’s artworks the same  again.

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Interested in more recommendations of art historical fiction novels? Below are some great gems based on the impressionists!