Book Review | Paul Gauguin: A Life by David Sweetman

Paul Gauguin: A Life

David Sweetman’s Paul Gauguin: A Life is a little hard to come by (must not have sold well). I happened across it in our local library a few years ago and then picked up a used copy from Amazon. I am amazed the book isn’t more widely available as I feel it is one of the more compelling and well-written artist bios I have read.

David Sweetman paints an intimate portrait of the enigmatic 19th century artist who bridged the gap between the formal pre-impressionistic artists and the post-impressionistic symbolists. I enjoyed Gauguin’s story as much as the broader historical context of his life. Here was a man who worked as a sailor and then as a stock-broker who experienced enough success to begin collecting art – a passion which eventually moved him to give up his career and pursue his art obsessively. He faced extraordinary difficulties – he was cast off by his wife, rejected by critics for being too revolutionary and fought constant depression. Eventually Gauguin made his way to the tropics where he created some of his most influential works.

If you are lucky enough to pick up a copy of the book, jump at it. This rare volume would make a great addition to your library. Keep your eye out on this Amazon page for used copies.

Have you Read Any Great Art Books Recently?

I love reading about art history and am always looking for recommendations. Have you read a great book recently? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Looks like a great read. I love “the moon and sixpence” by Somerset Maugham, which is based on the life of Paul Gauguin – it is a beautiful book and I think due for a re-read also.

  2. Check out “Queer Thing, Painting,” forty years in the world of art by Walter Pack, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1938. I was fortunate to come across a used copy in San Francisco.

  3. Robert Gombrich’s The Story of Art
    Is hands down the best art history book I’ve read because he is thinking about artists from a contemporary view point. The associations that he makes between the the big idea and the context in which it is manifested, is refreshing. Talk about being able to write an artwork description, Gombrich brings in a sociologist’s perspective as well as the historical context of a work of art. I’d say Gombrich is one of the most creative art historians I know of.

  4. The story of an egotistical person who rather than being cast off by his wife, walked out on her and his large family of children, mistreated his friends was known to be a untrustworthy and needed to be considered the greatest or the leader among his circle of artist friends. His unsavory reputation was known even in his own time. I was disappointed to find that someone whose art I’d always admired, was such an unlikable person once I dug into his history.

  5. Well Jason I have not read your book but have read Gauguin by Himself. As much as I liked Mucha I felt Gauguin was a better painter of that period. However in the book Gauguin by himself it is revealed that Gauguin used Mucha’s studio for several months and I could see Mucha’s influence in Gauguin’s new direction. I learned many things from the book. I will have to see if I can find this book of yours or perhaps read it online. Thanks

  6. I recently read “Venus Betrayed: The Private World of Edouard VuillardVenus Betrayed: The Private World of Edouard Vuillard” by Julia Frey. It’s a fascinating story that de-romanticizes Vuillard and his living situation with his mother and sister and also discusses the relationship with his dealers and their wives/lovers, and how that inspired his work.

  7. I’m excited to read this book especially since I just finished Lust for Life, the book about Van Gogh, your recommendation. It will be fun to see the intertwining! I thought Lust for Life was pretty fabulous, although it was a very long read!

  8. I have and have read Sweetman’s Gauguin, and although it was a good read I was left with the feeling that Sweetman really didn’t like Gauguin much! And wondered why you’d bother to write a book about someone you didn’t approve of.

    1. Gaugin was a complex subject, with a life full of choices that we might find questionable. I though Sweetman did a good job of laying out the story of the artist’s life, warts and all. At the end of the day, I felt a greater appreciation for Gaugin’s art by virtue of understanding the complexity.

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