Self–portraiture constituted a significant element of Gauguin's production, particularly in 1888 and 1889. Gauguin's interest was prompted in part by Vincent van Gogh's 1888 portrait series including _La Mousmé_, which Gauguin knew from his correspondence with Van Gogh and his brother Theo. In addition, Van Gogh hoped to establish an artists' colony in the south that could be analogous to Gauguin's circle in Brittany and proposed an exchange of self–portraits. Gauguin's only known statements about his self–portraiture concern a work similar to the National Gallery’s _Self–Portrait_ and thus have relevance. Gauguin refers to "the face of an outlaw . . . with an inner nobility and gentleness," a face that is "symbol of the contemporary impressionist painter" and "a portrait of all wretched victims of society."

This _Self–Portrait_, painted on a cupboard door from the dining room of an inn in the Breton hamlet Le Pouldu, is one of Gauguin's most important and radical paintings. His haloed head and disembodied right hand, a snake inserted between the fingers, float on amorphous zones of yellow and red. Elements of caricature add an ironic and aggressively ambivalent inflection to this painted assertion of Gauguin's artistic superiority and make him the sardonic hero of his new aesthetic system.


  • Title: Self-Portrait
  • Creator: Paul Gauguin
  • Date Created: 1889
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 79.2 x 51.3 cm (31 3/16 x 20 3/16 in.)
  • Provenance: Consigned by the artist to Mme Marie Henry [1859-1945], Le Pouldu, in lieu of rent; sold 1919 through François Norgelet to (Galerie Barbazanges, Paris); (Hodebert, Paris).[1] Possibly Mrs. R.A. Workman, London.[2] Lord Ivor Charles Spencer Churchill [1898-1956], London; sold 1923 to (Alex Reid and Lefèvre, Ltd., Glasgow and London); sold 1925 to (Kraushaar Galleries, New York);[3] sold 6 September 1928 to Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York;[4] gift 1963 to NGA. [1] Receipt signed by Marie Henry for 35,000 francs for 14 paintings sold to Norgelet, dated 3 June 1919, archives of the Barbazanges-Hodebert Gallery, copies, Documentation, Musée d'Orsay. See Dominique Lobstein, "Die Ausstellung Paul Gauguin in der Galerie Barbazanges im Jahre 1919," in _Paul Gauguin: Vom der Bretagne nach Tahiti. Ein Aufbruch zur Moderne_, Exh. cat., Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, 2000. The painting is reproduced in Louise Gebhard Cann, "Gauguin's Image of Himself," _International Studio_ 82 (May 1925): 120, with Hodebert in the caption, although the picture would have left Hodebert by 1923, when it was sold to Reid & Lefèvre. Hodebert was the successor to the Galerie Barbazanges, which was located on the property of fashion designer Paul Poiret. Poiret went bankrupt in the early 1920s and it is probably at that time that the gallery changed ownership/name. [2] Mrs. Workman's name appears in the Chester Dale papers, NGA curatorial files, sent February 1942, and the portrait is recorded as having belonged to her in the Wildenstein exhibition catalogue, _Great Portraits from Impressionism to Modernism_, March 1938, although her ownership is not otherwise documented. See letter dated 13 October 1965 from G. Corcoran of Alex Reid & Lefèvre, NGA curatorial files. [3] See letter dated 13 October 1965 from G. Corcoran of Alex Reid & Lefevre, NGA curatorial files. [4] Date of purchase from Kraushaar in Chester Dale papers in NGA curatorial files. See also Dale's letter to Kraushaar dated 6 September 1928 (Kraushaar Gallery Records, Archives of American Art, Box 12, folder 42).
  • Medium: oil on wood

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