This drawing is from a portfolio of sketches which Gauguin labeled Documents Tahiti 1891, 1892, 1893. The portfolio also contained sketches done in Brittany before Gauguin's departure to the South Seas. The Wildenstein Institute ascribes a date of 1889 to this work; Rewald (op. cit.) also notes the possibility of this date but allows that it may well have been done at the time of the later Tahitian studies.
In both portraits the artist represents himself as a suffering figure. In the upper study, he appears gaunt and heavy-lidded. The lower study is related to the painting Christ au Jardin des Olives, 1889 (Wildenstein, no. 326; coll. Norton Gallery and School of Fine Art, West Palm Beach) in which the artist identifies himself with Christ, who is about to be betrayed to his enemies.
Also visible, to the right of the upper portrait, is a head in profile with almond-shaped eyes. The character or even the sex of this figure is ambiguous; it recalls the seated figure seen frontally in Vendage à Arles ou Misères humaines, 1889 (Wildenstein, no. 304; coll. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen), or it may have been derived from Maori subjects. Here the artist appears to identify himself with a primitive archetype, either peasant or native, and the weight of human suffering.
A letter from the Wildenstein Institute dated Paris, March 14, 1997 accompanies this drawing, which will be included in the forthcoming revised edition of their Gauguin catalogue raisonné.