Paul Gauguin (1848–1903)

Mucha first met Gauguin in 1891 at Madame Charlotte Caron's Crémerie at 13 rue de la Grande Chaumière on the Left Bank of Paris. Situated directly opposite the Académie Colarossi where both artists were at one time students, it had become a meeting place for a circle of hard-up bohemians who were able to eat on credit and pay with their works of art.

Mucha recalled "He came and sat at our table, between [Władysław] Ślewiński and me. He was a powerfully built Breton, dressed in something that looked like a national costume. On his head he wore an astrakhan cap and across his shoulders a wide cloak with ornamental clasps. Madame Charlotte introduced him as a sailor who was also a painter: Monsieur Gauguin. We soon became friendly [...]. From now on, Gauguin came every day".

Later that year, Gauguin made his first trip to Polynesia. He returned to France two years later with a large body of work, determined to make a name for himself. Knowing the older artist to be short of money, Mucha invited him to share his studio at 8 rue de la Grande Chaumière opposite the Crémerie. It was in the corner of Mucha's studio that Gauguin put the finishing touches on his exhibition of 46 works and 11 sculptures, principally from his Tahitian sojourn, that were shown at Durand-Ruel's Paris gallery in November 1893.

Photos taken by Mucha at this time tell of the close and convivial relationship that developed between the two artists. Gauguin's teenage mistress and model, Annah la Javanaise, would accompany the artist to Mucha's studio and join the coterie of artists who, when they were not busy working, enjoyed dressing up in costume and posing in front of Mucha's camera. In addition to the more humorous poses, such as the eponymous Paul Gauguin playing Mucha's harmonium in his studio, rue de la Grande Chaumière (1893-1894), Gauguin posed as a model for Mucha's illustrations for Judith Gautier's Mémoires d'un Éléphant Blanc (1893-1894).

In addition to a marked love of Madame Charlotte’s food, of Japanese prints and of the work of Puvis de Chavannes, Mucha and Gauguin shared many traits. Both artists were extremely ambitious and hungry for success, and took great care to cultivate a public image that reflected their unique aesthetic. The studio was an extension of this and instrumental in promoting their work. In January 1894 Gauguin moved into his own studio at 6 rue Vercingétorix just a few minutes’ walk from the rue de la Grande Chaumière. In the same way that Mucha had created an exotic bohemian interior, Gauguin's space became an ode to primitive life and folk art and reinforced Gauguin's persona as an authority on native Tahitian culture. Through regular social gatherings held in these distinctive environments, complete with a host dressed in eccentric folk attire and, in Gauguin's case, the presence of an exotic mistress, both artists sought to bring their works of art to life and transform and engage visitors through a unique aesthetic experience.

In 1895 Gauguin managed to raise the funds to return to Polynesia where he remained until his death in 1903. Mucha, who as ill at the time of his departure, never saw his friend again.