Tahitian Faces (Frontal View and Profiles)

Paul Gauguin (French, Paris 1848–1903 Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands )

ca. 1899
Charcoal on laid paper
Sheet: 16 1/8 x 12 1/4 in. (41 x 31.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1996
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Gauguin's almost worshipful appreciation of exotic peoples, whom he believed to be innocent of modern civilization's woes, is stirringly conveyed in this New World icon. At its center is the face of a dark-haired young woman whom Gauguin painted on his second voyage to Tahiti. Two renderings of profiles (right and left) are conjoined with a full frontal view in a haunting totemic design that evinces fascination and awe. These masklike faces, devoid of any sign of emotion in their blank eyes and closed lips, appear timeless and remote, much as do the stone heads sculpted by ancient Asians and Egyptians.

    Arguably the finest of all Gauguin's surviving drawings, this charcoal study is a work of exceptional feeling and finesse. By smudging the sooty contour lines and shadows with his fingers (or perhaps with a wad of soft bread), the artist defined features of the Maori race in a way that conveys both enthnographic accuracy and spirituality. For Gauguin, a young and beautiful Tahitian woman was a powerful symbol of life's mysterious forces.

  • Provenance

    Ambroise Vollard (French, 1867–1939); Daniel de Monfried (1856–1929); Galerie Beyeler, Basel ; Private Collection, purchased from Galerie Beyeler in 1960; Sotheby's, London, 3 December 1991, lot 19; Sotheby's, New York, November 8, 1994, lot 13; Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 1996, sale 6913, lot 7; Vendor: Sotheby's, New York , 12 Nov 1996, sale 6913, lot 7

  • Exhibition History

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," January 6, 1997–April 13, 1997.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Lure of the Exotic: Gauguin in New York Collections," June 18, 2002–October 20, 2002.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009.

    Tate Modern. "Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth," September 30, 2010–January 16, 2011.

    National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.. "Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth," February 21, 2011–May 30, 2011.

    Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Gauguin: Metamorphoses," March 8, 2014–June 8, 2014.

  • References

    Georges Boudaille Gauguin. Paris, 1964, p. 140, 170, ill.

    Richard Brettell, Françoise Cachin, Claire Frèches-Thory, Charles F. Stuckey, Peter Zegers, Isabelle Cahn, Gloria Groom, Marla Prather The Art of Paul Gauguin. Ex. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, May 1-July 31, 1988; Art Institute of Chicago, Sept. 17-Dec. 11, 1988; Grand Palais, Paris, Jan. 10-Apr. 20, 1989. Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 425, ill.

    Impressionist and Modern Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Part I. Sale catalogue. Sotheby's, London, December 3, 1991, cat. no. 19, ill.

    Impressionist and Modern Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Part I. [Sale cat., November 8, 1994]. Sotheby's, London, 1994, cat. no. 13, ill.

    Impressionist and Modern Art, Part I. Sale cat. Sotheby's, New York, New York, November 12, 1996, cat. no. 7, ill.

    George R. Goldner, Colta Ives, Carolyn Logan, Perrin Stein "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1996-1997." in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.s., vol. 55, no. 2, Autumn 1997, fig. no. cover and p. 58, p. 58, ill.

    Charles F. Stuckey "Gauguin, New York." Burlington Magazine. vol. 144, no. 1194, September, 2002, fig. no. 77, 582, ill.

    Colta Ives, Susan Alyson Stein, Charlotte Hale, Marjorie Shelley The Lure of the Exotic: Gauguin in New York Collections. Ex. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New York, 2002, cat. no. 104, fig. no. Frontispiece, pp. 130, 200, 202, 203, 205-6, 224, ill.

    Gauguin: Maker of Myth. Ex cat.: Tate Modern, London, 30 Sept. 2010-16 Jan. 2011 and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 27 Feb.-5 Jun. 2011. Belinda Thomson, Tamar Garb, Tate Publishing, London, 2010, cat. no. 144, pp. 214, 243.

  • See also