Gauguin was born in Paris, France, to journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the proto-socialist leader Flora Tristan, a feminist precursor whose father was part of an influential Peruvian family. In 1850 the family left Paris for Peru, motivated by the political climate of the period. Clovis died on the voyage, leaving 18-month-old Paul, his mother and sister, to fend for themselves. They lived for four years inLima with Paul's maternal uncle and his family.
At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France, moving to Orléans to live with his paternal grandfather. The Gauguins came originally from the area and were market gardeners and greengrocers: gauguinmeans "walnut-grower". His father had broken with family tradition to become a journalist in Paris. Gauguin soon learned French, though his first and preferred language remained Peruvian Spanish.
In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad (1850–1920). Over the next ten years, they had five children: Émile (1874–1955); Aline (1877–1897); Clovis (1879–1900); Jean René (1881–1961); and Paul Rollon (1883–1961). By 1884, Gauguin had moved with his family to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he pursued a business career as a tarpaulin salesman. It was not a success: He could not speak Danish, and the Danes did not want French tarpaulins. Mette became the chief breadwinner, giving French lessons to trainee diplomats.
His middle-class family and marriage fell apart after 11 years when Gauguin was driven to paint full-time. He returned to Paris in 1885, after his wife and her family asked him to leave because he had renounced the values they shared.[clarification needed]Gauguin's last physical contact with them was in 1891, Mette eventually breaking with him decisively in 1894.
His health took a decided turn for the worse and he was hospitalised several times for a variety of ailments. While he was in France, he had his ankle shattered in a drunken brawl on a seaside visit to Concarneau. The injury, an open fracture, never healed properly. Now painful and debilitating sores that restricted his movement were erupting up and down his legs. These were treated with arsenic. Gauguin blamed the tropical climate and described the sores as "eczema", but his biographers agree this must have been the progress of syphilis. He died suddenly on the morning of 8 May 1903.