Paul Gauguin's sculpture was innately tied to that of his paintings and he did not consider working in this medium to be secondary. In 1881 he sent two wood sculptures to the Impressionist exhibition which drew the attention of the art critic J.K. Huysmans. Wood carving was Gauguin's preferred medium for sculpting and it remained so throughout his career.
The original wood version of Mask of a Tahitian Woman was executed circa 1890. It is commonly associated with the figure of Tehura from Noa-Noa, though Christopher Gray notes that the features of the mask do not match that of Gauguin's description of Tehura excactly but rather serve as a more "pure Polynesian type," excuted in "a more thoroughly European tradition." The scene carved on the back recalls the painting Eve (see J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism, p. 468), signed and dated 1890. According to Mme Huc de Monfreid, this sculpture was offered by Gauguin to her mother "pour payer le modle" after she had posed for him. (Gray, op. cit.) While at first glance, Mask of a Tahitian woman appears to be a straight forward portrait bust, the presence of the relief on the back reveals Gauguin's growing interest in the theories of the Symbolists with which he had come in contact during the late 1880s.