Paul Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848, and after a whole life and a self-imposed exile, he died in 1903 in French Polynesia. The French painter Paul Gauguin's art has been categorized as Post-Impressionist, Synthetic, and Symbolist.

Paul Gauguin quickly indulged in affairs and just as easily parted again. There were, however, two women who left a notable mark on the soul of Paul Gauguin, the artist. The first one was a Danish woman to whom he was married for about 12 years, and the second woman was Tahitian.

In this article, we'll look at the Danish woman who was with him during his early years as the Gauguin artist.

Gauguin Met, Married and Settled with Mette-Sophie Gad

Mette-Sophie Gad was born in Denmark in 1850. Her father was the judge of an outlying Danish island, and Mette was born on the island. When she was merely 17 years old, Mette-Sophie became a governess to the children of the Danish Minister of State. Three years later, she travelled with Marie Heegaard, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, to Paris as her companion. They arrived in Paris in October 1872.

During that same time, Paul Gauguin was working as a bookkeeper and stockbroker at a financial brokerage firm in Paris. He stayed at the brokerage for 11 years, had a decent income, and lived comfortably. It was at the same time that he started to paint part-time.

He met Mette Gad, and in January 1873, they got engaged, and in November 1873, they were married in a Lutheran church in Paris. They had five children in 10 years. Then, in 1877, Gauguin got another job at André Bourdon's bank, and he and his family moved to Vaugirard.

He was still a part-time painter but was at that stage mainly a collector of artworks by contemporary Impressionist painters. He was, however, also recognized as a new upcoming painter and was invited to show his "Landscape at Viroflay" at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. At that stage, his job provided a steady income, he loved his part-time painting, and the family was happy and healthy. Mette also posed as a model for some of his paintings.

The Stock market Crash and the Career Change

When he began to receive artistic instruction in 1876, it did not "interfere" with his family life and marriage because his income as a stockbroker gave them a comfortable lifestyle. But everything changed in 1882 when the French Stock market crashed. As a result, Paul Gauguin lost his job.

However, as you learn about Gauguin artist, you discover that he saw the loss of his job as a blessing in disguise. He did not like the role of a part-time artist anymore. He wanted to be the painter Paul Gauguin and paint, exhibit, and sell more of his paintings. Thus, when France encountered their economic crisis, Gauguin considered it a sign to devote himself entirely to art.

His wife, Mette, was not so enthusiastic about her husband's career change. Moreover, the family had to live on the poverty line. They moved to Rouen to reduce spending, and Gauguin had to sell his collection of paintings. As a result, his works were not in demand.

Paul and Mette, after the Move to Rouen

Mette was very unhappy with the move to Rouen. She and her children had to live in the wilderness, and they suffered from a lack of money. She was also unhappy and stressed because Gauguin refused to seek new gainful work. He just wanted to follow his dream.

Paul and Mette quarrelled more and more often. Later Mette could not stand it anymore, and she took the children and went away to her family in Copenhagen. There she began to teach French to local children and earned some money.

She persuaded Paul Gauguin to reunite with her and his children in Copenhagen. He did it, but it didn't work out. He couldn't give enough attention to his paintings in the long run. He tried to get an income for his family by selling tarpaulins, but the Danish people were not interested in French tarpaulins, and he didn't know the language. Mette's family also treated him with contempt.

The couple finally parted in 1885. Gauguin returned to Paris, and his last meeting with Mette was in 1891. Mette broke off with him officially in 1894.

Gauguin's Letters to Mette after their Separation

After their separation, Paul still sent letters to her over the next few years. He shared his thoughts, complained about his life, boasted about his successes, and talked about his travels in these letters. In some of the letters, he criticized and accused Mette of being more of a mother to him than a wife.

In February 1891, when Gauguin was already obsessed with his tropical island idea, he sold his paintings and raised about 10 thousand francs with the help of his friends. He didn't send any of the money to his family, but he wrote a "strange" letter just before his departure to Tahiti.

In the letter, he told her that his future was secure and that he would be happy if she would share it with him. He foresaw that they would grow grey together and enter a period of rest and spiritual happiness. He closed the letter with the line: "When I return, we will get married again. In the meantime, take my wedding kiss."

Mette's letters to him have not survived, so we'll never know what her reaction to these letters was, especially this last one from him.

Gauguin's Paintings while with Mette

When you check painter Paul Gauguin's famous drawings, you'll find that he used his wife Mette as a model for some of his masterpieces while married to her. Portrait of Madame Gauguin (1880–81) is a perfect example. Other famous paintings from the period when he was married to Mette include:
  • Landscape at Viroflay," which was exhibited in the Impressionist Salon exhibition in 1876,
  • The Market Gardens of Vaugirard, 1879,
  • Winter Landscape, 1879,
  • Garden in Vaugirard (Painter's Family in the Garden in Rue Carcel), 1881.


Paul Gauguin was married to the "Danish woman," Mette Gad, for about 12 years and the first years were happy years. His income came from his stockbroker's salary, and he could enjoy his part-time painting. However, after he had decided to become a full-time painter, their relationship deteriorated. Many art scholars agree with Gauguin's letter that Mette was more of a mother to him than a wife, especially when things were financially in chaos. Nevertheless, according to art critics, his quarrels with Mette and the times when he tried to accommodate her wishes to live where she and the children have influenced his outlook on life and his art.