Beading With the Masters: Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was a French post-Impressionist painter who, like many of his contemporaries, was unappreciated until after his death. He influenced painters like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain. He was important to the Symbolist movement, the Avant-garde movement, Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, among others. He worked with many of the greats such as Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Vincent Van Gogh.

ABOVE:Paul Gauguin’s Self-Portrait Les Miserables and La femme à la fleur with Michelle Gowland’s Calypso Earrings and Laura Graham’s Hannya Mask Cuff

I am fortunate to have seen many of Gauguin’s paintings in person at the the Art Institute of Chicago at an exhibit of his and Van Gogh’s work from the period of time they spent together in Arles, France. Gauguin left Arles when Van Gogh was at his most unstable, after Van Gogh threatened him with a razor blade. It was that day that Van Gogh cut off his own ear and was hospitalized for his mental health. Despite their traumatic relationship, they did maintain a friendly correspondence, but they never saw each other again.

About Beading With the Masters

I’m an art geek and love exploring art history. I’ve been enjoying learning what inspired artists’ work and tapping into their stories. I’ve selected my favorite notable artists, and in the month of their birth I’ll share their stories with you, and draw correlations between them and beaded jewelry design.

If you’re into art history, too, be sure to check out my previous article about artist Henri Rousseau, or read the entire Beading With the Masters series to get all caught up with what I’ve shared so far!

Island Life

Gauguin was born in Paris, but his family moved back to his maternal grandmother’s home in Peru. There he enjoyed a privileged upbringing until political upheaval forced his family to return to France when he was just six years old. His time spent in Peru instilled a wanderlust in him, and he spent a large part of his life bouncing around between France, Denmark, South America, the Caribbean, Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. He wanted to escape European civilization and “everything that is artificial and conventional.” Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands captured his heart, and the people of those places took center stage in much of his work.

Charlotte Hirschberger’s Gazania Pendant, Michelle Gowland’s Calypso Pendant, Vezsuzsi’s Corentin Pendant, and Susan Sassoon’s Tinos Flower Earrings

Charlotte Hirschberger’s Gazania Pendant, Michelle Gowland’s Calypso Earrings, Vezsuzsi’s Corentin Pendant, and Susan Sassoon’s Tinos Flower Earrings

Bead artists, too, are inspired by the colors and cultures of Island life. Here are some of my favorite examples of beadwork with an island feel:

  • The Gazania Pendant by Charlotte Hirschberger features floral themes and colors that feel tropical and breezy. Utilizing peyote stitch for both structure and decoration, this dimensional floral pendant features sparkling crystal ovals, bicones, sequins, and a crystal rivoli.
  • Michelle Gowland’s Calypso Earrings suggest a female form and have beautiful tropical-feeling colors. This stash-busting project works up fast with relatively few beads of each shape!
  • The Corentin Pendant by Vezsuzsi features vibrant colors that bring to mind a Caribbean island on a beautiful summer day. This pretty pendant celebrates color and the joy of creating beadwork. Combine shaped beads with seed beads in tubular peyote stitch, circular peyote stitch, and circular netting.
  • Susan Sassoon’s Tinos Flower Earrings share a bold color palette and geometric styling with many of Gauguin’s paintings of island life.


Gauguin felt creatively let down by Impressionism, and he thought that traditional European painting lacked symbolic depth. He was fascinated by the art of Africa and Asia. The images found there were full of mystic symbolism and vigor. There was a trend in Europe at the time to appreciate art from other cultures, especially that of Japan (Japonism). A lot of Gauguin’s work was influenced by the folk art and prints of Japan, which showed through his style of painting flat areas of color with bold outlines.

Laura Graham’s Hannya Mask Cuff, Martha Aleo’s Tokyo Rows Bracelet, Jennifer and Susan Schwartzenberger’s Japanese Fan Necklace, and Silke Steuernagel’s Japanese Fan Earrings

Laura Graham’s Hannya Mask Cuff, Martha Aleo’s Tokyo Rows Bracelet, Jennifer and Susan Schwartzenberger’s Japanese Fan Necklace, and Silke Steuernagel’s Japanese Fan Earrings

Japanese culture and art inspire a lot of beadwork today, too. With many of the seed beads used in the art form of bead weaving being manufactured in Japan, it seems only fitting. Here are some beading patterns that feature a Japanese aesthetic:

Explore More Beading Designs

Many artists, myself included, find inspiration in travel and experiencing other cultures and landscapes. I have found that the more places I visit, the more images I have catalogued away in my head for inspiration. I’ll bead a necklace with the colors and symbols of Iceland, or suddenly become obsessed with fleur-de-lis motifs after visiting New Orleans. The wanderlust that Gauguin (and countless others) found themselves afflicted with has wound its way around my heart and soul and I’ll never stop exploring.

Meredith Steele
Technical Editor, Beadwork magazine

Find creative inspiration in beading designs from the Interweave Store:

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