This portrait depicts one of Gauguin’s closest friends, the Dutch painter Jacob Meyer de Haan, in the pose of a thinker. It includes two books that reflect Meyer de Haan’s preoccupations with religion and philosophy: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus. Carlyle’s central character is called Diogenes, after the Greek philosopher who searched by lamplight for an honest man, and the prominent lamp here may extend this reference. This work was originally intended as part of a decorative panel for the door of an inn at Le Pouldu—a small coastal village in France where both artists stayed—to be hung next to a companion self-portrait by Gauguin that is now in the collection of the National Gallery, in Washington, D.C.
Gallery label from Cézanne to Picasso: Paintings from the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection, July 17–August 31, 2009.