Brian Sewell’s mini-essay on the Gauguin show at the Tate Modern contains this pocket biography of the painter:
Born in Paris in 1848, a decade younger than Cézanne, a decade older than Seurat (of both of whom he was in some sense a pupil), Gauguin had no early ambition to be a painter. At 17 he became first a merchant and then a naval seaman, his tours of duty ranging from the Arctic to India and South America, his pastimes for six years drinking, whoring and whittling. At 23 he was introduced to a stockbroker, showed some talent in the trade, made money, married Mette (a bourgeois Danish girl from Copenhagen), took up painting, began to collect Impressionist pictures — the First Impressionist Exhibition was in 1874 — and in 1876 one of his own paintings was accepted by the Paris Salon. In 1880, 1881 and 1882 he exhibited work in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Impressionist Exhibitions; in 1883 he resigned from his stockbroker employers and became a full-time painter; and in 1885 he deserted his wife and family and began the unsettled and poverty-stricken existence that was to take him to Tahiti and the even more isolated Marquesas Islands (both were French dominions) for the last eight years of his life. There, until his death in 1903, his companions were dire penury and thoughts of suicide, alcohol, the advancing consequences of syphilis and a succession of early teenage native girls.
Trouble in Paradise for Gauguin (This is London/Evening Standard)