Portrait of a Man


Paul Gauguin ( 1848 - 1903 )

c. 1880
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General Description

This small portrait head has been identified by Paul Gauguin's son, Pola, as a portrait of the painters' paternal uncle, Henri. Although Pola dated the portrait to 1879 in his certificate of authentication, subsequent scholars have given it a later date of about 1884, presumably on the grounds of style. In fact, neither the identity of the sitter nor the date of the painting can be corroborated with other evidence, and in spite of Pola's certainty of tone, it must be remembered that many of his attributions and dates have not held up to modern scrutiny. Whatever the identity of the sitter, the painting has almost no qualities of a portrait. The man's featureless black eyes project no character and allow the viewer no access. Neither is the figure given any telling details of costume or props that would help us establish his profession or interests. Only his unfashionable hat and simple coat give the portrait character, and that character is generic rather than individual in nature. The slightly hooked nose of the sitter is similar to Gauguin's own, allowing us to infer that the painting represents a member of the family, as Pola asserted. But that is all. The painting appears to be unfinished. It was painted directly on a primed canvas, which Gauguin used almost as a sheet of paper, allowing it to remain as the background. The unusual size and folded corners of the canvas indicate that it may even be a fragment of a larger composition, cut down later to become a portrait. "Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection," page 72