Getty Lands a Morbid Gauguin
LA museum buys painting of decapitation scene after 8-year search
By Daniel Kibblesmith,  Newser User
Posted Mar 12, 2008 2:53 PM CDT
Visitors walk in the gardens at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The museum has purchased "Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)," an 1892 painting by French master Paul Gauguin, which depicts the severed...   (Associated Press)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired an 1892 work by Paul Gauguin the Los Angeles institution's curator calls "the most famous painting by Gauguin that no one has seen," the Los Angeles Times reports. Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)—bought from a Swiss collector for an undisclosed sum—is one of the painter's most morbid Tahitian paintings, depicting a severed head on a pillow.

Gauguin painted Arii Matamoe on his first trip to Tahiti after abandoning his banking job in France. While the severed head may represent a Polynesian king who died around the time of the work, it also echoes earlier decapitations in Western art history, experts say, from Orpheus to John the Baptist.