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Head with Horns
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Paul Gauguin
French, Tahiti, 1895 - 1897
Wood with traces of polychromy
head
2002.18

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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.


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