GAUGUIN, Paul
(b. 1848, Paris, d. 1903, Atuona, Hiva Oa, French Polynesia)

Self-Portrait

1889
Oil on wood, 79 x 51 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

In October 1889 Gauguin returned to Le Pouldu, where he stayed at the inn of Marie Henry with Meyer de Haan. Shortly after their arrival, they began to decorate the inn's dining room. The present work is part of the suite of decorative panels, along with the Caribbean Woman with Sunflowers. It formed the door of a cupboard with a portrait of Meyer de Haan opposite. These two works need to be read as a pair in order to appreciate the wealth of symbols they embody.

This Self-Portrait with elements of caricature is one of Gauguin's most important and radical paintings. In it the painter seems to be melancholic. The background is filled with three Christian symbols: the apple, the halo, and the snake.

Gauguin's head emerges from simplified yellow angel wings, which contrast with the red background, symbolizing the demonic side of his character. The apples and serpent are references to the garden of Eden, to temptation and to Milton's Paradise Lost (the book was included in his portrait of Meyer de Haan). The sexual allusion of the apples may have been incorporated for more personal reasons - as a symbol of Gauguin's jealousy at Meyer de Haan's love affair with Marie Henry. Once again, Gauguin has freely plundered different cultural traditions in the interests of a strikingly bold, essentially decorative work, combining Christian iconography with the treatment found in Japanese prints.




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