Head with Horns

Object Details


Head with Horns


Paul Gauguin (French, 1848 - 1903)




1895 - 1897


Sandalwood with traces of polychromy on a lacewood base


22 x 22.8 x 12 cm (8 11/16 x 9 x 4 3/4 in.)

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Paul Gauguin may have carved this almost life-sized head as a symbolic self-portrait. He made the sculpture while living in Tahiti, where he studied the native culture and, to a great extent, identified with the local people. Despite his pampered upbringing, Gauguin saw himself as a "savage," untamed by the civilizing force of French society.

In this mysterious sculpture, Gauguin's own features are suggested, combined with Polynesian attributes, such as a broad nose. The hypnotic eyes and the smooth, warm surface of the finely finished wood are captivating. To Western viewers, the sinister horns suggest evil; however, in Tahiti, this attribute resembles a style of hair--bunched in knots at either side of the head--worn by young men as an expression of power.

This intriguing and complex sculpture was probably displayed in Gauguin's home in Tahiti, but it was lost sometime in the 1890s. Until its rediscovery in the 1990s, Head with Horns was known only from two photographs that Gauguin pasted into Noa Noa, a manuscript meant to explain his painting and Tahitian culture to his European contemporaries.

- about 1993

Private Collection (Switzerland), sold to Wildenstein & Co., about 1993.

about 1993 - 2002

Wildenstein & Company (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002.

La Sculpture des Peintres (July 2 to October 19, 1997)
  • Fondation Maeght, (Saint-Paul), July 2 to October 19, 1997
Gauguin (June 10 to November 22, 1998)
  • Fondation Pierre Gianadda, (Martigny), June 10 to November 22, 1998
Gauguin in New York Collections: The Lure of the Exotic (June 18 to October 20, 2002)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York), June 18 to October 20, 2002
Paul Gauguin (October 5, 2007 to February 3, 2008) (104)
  • Complesso del Vittoriano, (Rome), October 5, 2007 to February 3, 2008
Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth (September 30, 2010 to May 30, 2011) (104)
  • Tate Modern, (London), September 30, 2010 to January 16, 2011
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), February 21 to May 30, 2011
Gauguin: Metamorphoses (February 26, 2014 to June 8, 2014) (153)
  • The Museum of Modern Art (New York), March 8 to June 8, 2014
Related Media
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    Audio: Head with Horns (Angels and Demons)