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Atuona, French Polynesia

The Grave of Paul Gauguin

The art world's original bad boy is buried on the magnificent island of Hiva Oa.  

This unique grave in the Calvary Cemetery of Atuona is the final resting place of art world maverick Paul Gauguin.

Born in 1848, Paul Gauguin was a Post-Impressionist French artist whose curiosity, sense of adventure and wild, amorous spirit, led him from his life in France- where he lived as a spoiled bohemian- to a decadent, expatriate life in Tahiti. In 1901, an ailing and exhausted Gauguin settled on the small island of Hiva Oa in French Polynesia.

His flee from polite European society to the seemingly simpler and less restricted life of colonial Polynesia was echoed in his artistic embrace of so-called “Primativism,” a school of art later exemplified by Pablo Picasso. But his search for a place free from European influence and morals proved to be futile. In 1903, Gaugin attempted to expose the incompetence of the French officials ruling over Hiva Oa. He was unsuccessful, and was fined by the local magistrate and sentenced to three months in jail (he would not live to serve his sentence). Gauguin’s health began to deteriorate alarmingly. In his pain, he turned to morphine, and found himself almost totally unable to paint. He died on the morning of May 8, 1903 at the “Masion du Jouir,” his two-story thatched home. He was buried the next day in the local Catholic Cemetery.

Today, Gauguin’s legacy is strong in French Polynesia. Gauguin still has descendants living in the country, the progeny of numerous assignations with local vahine — women who accompanied him as common-law wives, muses, and models. The MS Paul Gauguin is a small cruise ship that takes people around French Polynesia, from Papeete to Bora Bora and also off to the more distant Marquesas. In Hiva Oa, you will also find the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center, which features a reconstruction of the Maison de Jouir. At the Calvary Cemetery you can pay homage to his restless spirit at this lovely grave, which is often festooned with the bright tropical flowers he painted so very well.