- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - During his first visit to the South Pacific Islands in the 1890s, Paul Gauguin carved a wooden sculpture of a Tahitian girl wearing large earrings and a necklace of coral and shells that the artist collected and strung together himself.

Last seen by the public in 1961 when the current New England collector purchased it at auction, “Jeune tahitienne” is estimated to bring $10 million to $15 million when it’s auctioned at Sotheby’s on May 3.

It is the only known fully-worked three dimensional bust made by Gauguin, Sotheby’s said Tuesday.

The serene-looking Tahitian girl is carved out of a warm brown local wood, with the five-strand necklace wrapped around her ponytail. A tiny hole allows for a fresh flower to be inserted near her face.

Sotheby’s said the artist himself collected and strung the shells and coral for the necklace.

Gauguin, who spent many years in Tahiti, is especially known for his vibrant paintings of the island’s beautiful women, flowers and lush tropical landscape. He also worked in other mediums, creating pastels, drawing, prints and ceramics.

When he returned to Paris in 1894 after his first visit to Tahiti, he presented “Jeune tahitienne” to a friend’s 10-year-old daughter after promising her he would bring her a gift from the South Seas.

Many years later, that girl, Jeanne Fournier, entrusted a Dominican priest to sell the sculpture. On June 28, 1961, it was consigned to a Sotheby’s auction in London.

The 9 1/2 inch sculpture has been in the possession of the present owner ever since. The owner’s name has not been disclosed.

The current record for Gauguin is $40.3 million for “L’homme a la hache,” an oil on canvas that sold at Christie’s New York in November 2006.

The auction coincides with “Gauguin: Maker of Myth,” currently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is the first major exhibition of the artist’s career in the United States in about 20 years.

“Jeune tahitienne” will be shown at the auction house’s galleries in Hong Kong on April 1-5 and London on April 14-18 before going on view in New York on April 29.





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