A Parisian by birth, Gauguin could never settle into French middle-class life, and various attempts to start a career failed. In 1886 he visited the artists’ colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany, and it was in that context that he evolved a personal painting style: inspired by the simple lives of the local country people, he evolved a very direct approach to subject matter, with simplified forms and a bold, original sense of colour. It was with a similar urge to escape mundane urban life that in the following year, 1887, he ventured much farther afield: to the remote Caribbean island of Martinique. Here he encountered the hot, rich colour and exotic flora of a sub-tropical topography, which confirmed his interest in experimenting with a challenging palette. The experience was decisive: a year or two later he took himself to the even more remote Polynesian islands of the south Pacific. and lived in Tahiti, as far as possible from “everything that is artificial and conventional” in European civilisation.
This week’s wordwatch looks at the use of “commonplace” and how it has evolved from denoting something exceptional to mean something trivial.