The Dutch painter Meijer de Haan, a friend of Gauguin’s, broods chin on hand and contemplates religion and philosophy—subjects suggested by his books, John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (1674) and Thomas Carlyle’s novel Sartor Resartus (1833–34). The bowl of apples meanwhile suggests both the fruit that tempted Eve in Eden and still lifes by Paul Cézanne, a contemporary whom Gauguin admired. The table is rendered as a powerful diagonal dividing the canvas, and this dynamic composition, the large swaths of bold color, and De Haan’s masklike face typify Gauguin’s language of modern painting.
Gallery label from 2019
This portrait depicts one of Gauguin’s closest friends, the Dutch painter Meijer 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 Cezanne to Picasso: Paintings from the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection, July 17–August 31, 2009.