Paul Gauguin - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  • Masque de Meyer de Haan, c. 1889-1890, exemplifies the creative approach to color and expressive touch that defined Paul Gauguin as the leader of the Pont Aven school of artists. Scholars believe the work outlines the striking features of Gauguin’s friend, Jacob Meyer de Haan, a Jewish artist who traveled with Gauguin across Brittany from 1889 through 1890, from Pont Aven to Le Pouldu; others posit that the work is a self-portrait. Gauguin painted the present work during his time with Meyer de Haan, perhaps as a study for Nirvana: Portrait of Meyer de Haan, c. 1889-1890, The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.i Meyer de Haan intended to travel to Tahiti with Gauguin as well, but his poor health prevented the voyage, and he passed away in 1894. Still, the image of Meyer de Haan stayed with Gauguin, and his striking visage transformed into a symbolic motif in one of Gauguin’s final paintings from French Polynesia.


    Paul Gauguin, Nirvana: Portrait of Meyer de Haan, c. 1889-1890. The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.

    The present work is an impressive feat of both draftsmanship and color; without an initial graphite sketch, Gauguin paints the planes of the face in a surprising palette of lime green and bright blue. In lieu of a more traditional grisaille approach, Gauguin uses the green to indicate highlights on the face—the bridge of the nose, edge of the jaw, and forehead—while the blue is graded to the areas of the face in shadow. This color combination recalls the advice Gauguin gave to another Pont Aven artist, Paul Sérusier, in 1888, when instructing him to paint a tree: “Is it quite green?” Gauguin asked. “Then put on green, the finest green on your palette; —and that shadow, is it a bit blue? Don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.”ii With Masque de Meyer de Haan, Gauguin seems to take his own advice, using color towards emotional, rather than directly representational, ends.


    [Left] Paul Gauguin, Portrait of Meyer de Haan, c. 1889. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY 
    [Right] Paul Gauguin, Portrait of Meyer de Haan, c. 1889. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY 

    Gauguin painted at least two portraits of Meyer de Haan during the pair’s travels in Brittany. The present work shares the same exaggerated, slanted eyes and three-quarters profile as Meyer de Haan’s face in Nirvana, albeit in mirror image. Meyer de Haan’s face in Nirvana is masklike, isolated out from the rest of the composition by a brown outline, akin to the turquoise blue that demarcates the literal mask, or masque, of the present work.iii Even the green and blue hues of Masque de Meyer de Haan have parallels in Nirvana, with the blue shadows of the nose and eyes, and greenish yellow highlights of the eyebrows and upper lip.


    Paul Gauguin, Contes Barbares, 1902. Museum Folkwang, Essen. Image: HIP / Art Resource, NY  

    Gauguin’s masklike treatment of the figure’s face depersonalizes his features, blurring the painted line between representation and expression, and anticipating how the Cubists would fracture the panes of the face in their painted portraits, ten years later. By turning the face into a mask, Gauguin unlocks the ability to slip his friend’s features onto allegorical figures in later works. Nirvana moves towards such allegorical treatment, presenting Meyer de Haan as a representation of the Buddhist final state of transcendent bliss. Eleven years later, Gauguin would give his friend’s face to another spiritually significant figure—this time, a menacing missionary—in Contes Barbares, 1902, Museum Folkwang, Essen, one of Gauguin’s final paintings, and the masterpiece of his Marquesan years.iv Masque de Meyer de Haan represents the first step towards Contes Barbares; Gauguin’s shift from figuration to allegory, enabled by a Symbolist use of color, would forever change the trajectory of Western art history.



    i John Rewald, Gauguin: Drawings, Thomas Yoseloff, New York and London, 1958, p. 26.

    ii Paul Gauguin, quoted in George Heard Hamilton, The Pelican History of Art: Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880-1940, Penguin, New York, 1967, p. 106.

    iii Catalogue entry, “Nirvana: Portrait of Meyer de Haan,” Wadsworth Atheneum, accessed Oct. 10, 2023, online.

    iv George T.M. Shackelford, “Splendor and Misery: Gauguin in the Marquesas Islands,” in Shackelford and Claire Fréches-Thory, eds., Gauguin Tahiti, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2003, p. 254.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      George-Daniel de Monfried, France
      Jean Souze, France
      Wildenstein & Co., New York
      Hammer Galleries, New York
      The Closson Galleries, Cincinnati
      Frederic W. Ziv (acquired from the above on November 9, 1968)
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

    • Exhibited

      Long Beach Municipal Art Center, January–February 1953
      Vancouver Art Gallery, The French Impressionists, March 24–April 19, 1953, no. 59, p. 24
      New York, Wildenstein & Co., Timeless Master Drawings, November–December, 1955, no. 131, n.p.
      London, Wildenstein & Co., The Art of Drawing: XVIth to XIXth Centuries, May 9–June 16, 1956, no. 90, p. 24
      Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, Paul Gauguin: Artist of Myth and Dream, October 6, 2007–February 3, 2008, no. 57, pp. 258-259 (illustrated, p. 259; titled Study for a Portrait of Meyer de Haan)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Klaroenstoot voor de moderne kunst. De Nabis in de collectie van de Triton Foundation, April 29–November 30, 2008, pp. 34-35 (illustrated, p. 34; titled Study for a Portrait of Meijer de Haan)
      The Cleveland Museum of Art; Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Paul Gauguin: The Breakthrough into Modernity, October 4, 2009–June 6, 2010, no. 103, pp. 177, 179, 240 (illustrated, p. 179; titled Self-Portrait)
      Milwaukee Art Museum; Vienna, Albertina, Impressionism: Pastels, Watercolors, Drawings, October 14, 2011–May 13, 2012, pl. 42, pp. 102, 170 (illustrated, p. 102; titled Self-Portrait)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 154-155, 547 (illustrated, p. 155; titled Self-Portrait)
      's-Hertogenbosch, Het Noordbrabants Museum, Van Goghs intimi. Vrienden, famille, modellen, September 21, 2019–January 12, 2020, no. 87, pp. 115, 212 (illustrated, p. 115; titled Zelfportret)

    • Literature

      Annie Joly-Segalen, ed., Lettres de Gauguin à Daniel de Monfried, Paris, 1950, no. 14, n.p. (illustrated; titled Masque)
      John Rewald, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), New York, 1954, pl. 34, n.p. (detail illustrated; titled Meyer de Haan)
      Robert Goldwater, Paul Gauguin, New York, 1957, p. 18 (illustrated)
      John Rewald, Gauguin: Drawings, New York, 1958, no. 26, p. 26 (illustrated, n.p.; titled Study for a Portrait of Jacob Meyer de Haan (Brittany))
      Robert Goldwater, Paul Gauguin, New York, 1983, p. 18 (illustrated)



Masque de Meyer de Haan

watercolor on paper
5 3/4 x 7 5/8 in. (14.7 x 19.5 cm)
Executed circa 1889-1890.

This work will be included in the forthcoming new edition of the Catalogue Raisonné by the Wildenstein Institute, Paris.

Full Cataloguing

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $66,040

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023