The J. Paul Getty Museum

Head with Horns

Object Details


Head with Horns


Paul Gauguin (French, 1848 - 1903)






Sandalwood with traces of polychromy on a lacewood base

Object Number:



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

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Object Description

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 & Co. (New York) (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)
  • Complesso del Vittoriano (Rome), October 5, 2007 to February 3, 2008
Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth (September 30, 2010 to May 30, 2011)
  • 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 to June 8, 2014)
  • The Museum of Modern Art (New York), March 8 to June 8, 2014
Gauguin: Tales from Paradise (October 28, 2015 to February 21, 2016)
  • Museo delle Culture (Milan), October 28, 2015 to February 21, 2016
The Sculptural Line (January 17 to April 16, 2017)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), January 17 to April 16, 2017

Bernardi, Claire, and Ophélie Ferlier-Bouat, eds. Gauguin: L'alchimiste, exh. cat. (Chicago and Paris: Art Institute of Chicago and Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 2017), pp. 35, 144, 194, 196. Note: reproduced in photographs dating from about 1895-1897.

Gauguin, Paul. Noa Noa: Voyage de Tahiti (bound manuscript), 1893-1901. Paris, Musée d'Orsay, held by the Département des Arts Graphiques, Musée du Louvre, RF 7259, folio 30 verso, ill.

Agostini, Jules. "L'Océanie française: Les Îles sous le Vent." Bibliothèque ilustrée des voyages autour du monde par terre et par mer, no. 85 (Paris: Plon, 1899), p. 32, ill.

Agostini, Jules. Tahiti (Paris: J. André, 1905), p. 71, ill.

Guérin, Marcel. L'Oeuvre Gravé de Gauguin (Paris: H. Floury, 1927; Reprint, San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1980), under no. 67.

Bayard, Émile. L'art de reconnaître les styles coloniaux de la France (Paris: Librarie Garnier Frères, 1931), p. 261, fig. 181.

Leymarie, Jean. Gauguin: Exposition du Centenaire, exh. cat. (Paris: Éditions des Musées Nationaux, 1949), p. 87, under no. 100.

Gauguin, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1959), p. 75, under no. 124.

Gray, Christopher. Sculpture and Ceramics of Paul Gauguin (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1963), p. 288, under no. 136 and pp. 310-11, no. A-13.

Bodelsen, Merete. Gauguin's Ceramics: A Study in the Development of his Art (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1964), p. 146.

Bodelsen, Merete. "Gauguin Studies." The Burlington Magazine 109, no. 769 (April 1967), pp. 220-25, ill.

O'Reilly, Patrick. Les photographes à Tahiti et leurs oeuvres, 1842-1962 (Paris: Société des oceanistes, Musée de l'homme, 1969), p. 83, n. 46.

Field, Richard S. Paul Gauguin: Monotypes, exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973), p. 91, under no. 66.

Vance, Mary Lynn Zink. "Gauguin's Polynesian Pantheon as a Visual Language." Ph.D. diss. (University of California, Santa Barbara, 1983), pp. 283-84, 287, 333-35, nn. 407-411, 424; pl. 186.

Amishai-Maisels, Ziva. Gauguin's Religious Themes (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985), pp. 250-51; 279, nn. 84-85; p. 459; fig. 102.

Wadley, Nicholas, ed. Noa Noa: Gauguin's Tahiti (Oxford: Phaidon, 1985), p. 45, fig. 26.

Le Pichon, Yann. Sur les traces de Gauguin (Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 1986), p. 209, ill.

Paul Gauguin, exh. cat. (Tokyo: Tokyo Shimbun, 1987), p. 179, under no. 130.

Mongan, Elizabeth, Eberhard W. Kornfeld, and Harold Joachim. Paul Gauguin, Catalogue raisonné of his Prints (Bern: Galerie Kornfeld, 1988), p. 190, under no. 48, n. 1.

Brettell, Richard, Françoise Cachin, Claire Frèches-Thory, and Charles F. Stuckey. The Art of Paul Gauguin (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1988), p. 367; p. 465, ill.

Bellet, Harry. "Les Barbares de la Sculpture." Connaissance des Arts, no. 541 (July-August 1997), pp. 64-66, ill.

La sculpture des peintres, exh. cat. (Saint-Paul: Fondation Maeght, 1997), p. 60, under no. 27; pp. 62-63, no. 30, ill; p. 64, under no. 31; p. 308, n. 30; cover ill.

Eisenman, Stephen F. Gauguin's Skirt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997), p. 174, ill.

Madeline, Laurence. "Gauguin, le primitif ultra-sauvage." L'Oeil, no. 487 (July-August 1997), pp. 58-67, ill.

Pickvance, Ronald. Gauguin, exh. cat. (Martigny: Fondatio Pierre Gianadda, 1998), no. 118, pp. 176-177, ill.; pp. 247 and 291.

Childs, Elizabeth C. "The Colonial Lens: Gauguin, Primitivism, and Photography in the Fin de siècle." In Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity. Lynda Jessup, ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 62.

"Gauguin in New York Collections: The Lure of the Exotic." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Calendar: Exhibitions & Programs (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, July-August 2002), p. 5, ill.

Du Prel, Alex W. "Un Faux Gauguin au Metropolitan de New York." Tahiti-Pacifique, no. 136 (August 2002), p. 8, ill.

Ives, Colta and Susan Alyson Stein with Charlotte Hale and Marjorie Shelley. The Lure of the Exotic: Gauguin in New York Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 134, fig. 51; no. 108, p. 135 ( ill.) and p. 224.

"In New York's first major Gauguin show in 40 years, works never before seen by the public." Catskill Mail, July 8, 2002.

Januszczak, Waldemar. "It has sun, sea, sand and sex, but the stunning Gauguin in New York is more than just one artist's voyage of discovery." The Sunday Times, August 2002, p. 7.

"Getty Museum Acquires Rare Sculpture by Paul Gauguin." San Marino Tribune, August 8, 2002, p. S-5, ill.

Stuckey, Charles F. "Gauguin." The Burlington Magazine 144, no. 1194 (September 2002), pp. 581-583, ill.

"A selection of 2002 museum acquisitions." Apollo 156, no. 490 (December 2002), p. 40, ill.

Madeline, Laurence. Ultra-Sauvage, Gauguin Sculpteur (Paris: Éditions Adam Biro, 2002), pp. 169-71, ill.

Tréhin, Jean-Yves. Tahiti: L'Éden à l'épreuve de la photographie (Papeete: Musée de Tahiti et des Îles/Gallimard, 2003), pp. 144-145, pp. 144-45.

"Gauguin Sculpture Acquired." This Month at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, April 2003), unpaginated, ill.

"Museum Acquisitions." The Art Newspaper, no. 135 (April 2003), p. 18.

Frèches-Thory, Claire and George T.M. Shackelford. Gauguin Tahiti, l'atelier des tropiques, exh. cat. (Paris: Éditions de la Reunion des musées nationaux, 2003), p. 153, ill.

Cahn, Isabelle. Gauguin Écrivain, CD-Rom and booklet (Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003), p. 36.

Tréhin, Jean-Yves. Gauguin, Tahiti et la Photographie (Papeete: Musée de Tahiti et des Îles, 2003), p. 173, ill.

Shackelford, George and Claire Frèches-Thory. Gauguin Tahiti, exh. cat. (Boston: MFA Publications, 2004), p. 106, ill.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 273, ill.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 8th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015), p. 316, ill.

Pedersen, Line Clausen, et al., eds. Gauguin: Tales from Paradise, exh. cat. (Milan: MUDEC - Museo delle Culture, 2015), pp. 178-79, ill.

Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource




Working with Sculpture

Brief overview of the history of Western sculpture; resource for a K-12 curriculum about sculpture.

Shaping Ideas

In this lesson plan students consider symbolic forms and sketch their own designs for a symbolic sculpture.

Visual Arts


Single Class Lesson

Shaping Ideas

In this lesson students evaluate their own sketches, choose a final design, and create their own symbolic sculpture.

Visual Arts


Three/Five-Part Lesson

Shaping Ideas

In this lesson Students participate in a class critique of the symbolic sculptures they created.

Visual Arts


Single Class Lesson