A wood sculpture attributed to Paul Gauguin held in the collection of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles was not actually produced by the famed artist, new research suggests. Its attribution status has been demoted to “unknown” in December 2019. According to a report by the French newspaper Le Figaro, the institution paid an estimated $3 million to $5 million in 2002 to acquire the work, which is titled Head with Horns, from Wildenstein gallery in New York.
In a statement, the museum said that its decision to change the attribution of the work “was based on scholarly research over recent years by Getty professionals and other experts in the field, including significant new evidence that was not available at the time of its acquisition.” The statement continues, “While we no longer attribute this work of art to Paul Gauguin, it was clearly an important object, known to him through photographs, that played a role in his artistic practice. The sculpture is the subject of ongoing research, which will be published in 2021 and 2022.”
Previously, photographs of the sculpture in Gauguin’s notebook had been thought to provide evidence that the artist had created the sculpture in Tahiti, the Art Newspaper reports. Fabrice Fourmanoir, a collector and former gallery owner in Tahiti, was among the first to call the authenticity of Head with Horns into question. Fourmanoir discovered the sculpture’s presence in a late 19th-century photograph taken by Jules Agostini. That image was captioned Idole Marquisienne, or Marquisian Idol, indicating that it may have been made by an anonymous artist in French Polynesia.
Anne-Lise Desmas, head of sculpture and decorative arts at the Getty, told The Art Newspaper that “no other Gauguin sculpture has such a pedestal,” and that the work is unsigned by the artist.
Head with Horns has previously been exhibited around the world at institutions such as Tate Modern in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.