One of the strangest works in the Gauguin exhibition, in my opinion, is this vase with a handle (or is it a bizarre Toby jug?) It’s a self-portrait in the form of a severed head. What on earth was Gauguin playing at? Is it a riff on the story of John the Baptist, who was beheaded at the whim of Salome? (Freud would have a field day…) Or is it a weird nod towards Gauguin’s angst-ridden stay in Arles, which ended with Van Gogh threatening him with a razor before lopping off his own earlobe? When Gauguin returned to Paris from Arles, in December 1888, he attended the execution by guillotine of a convicted murderer named Prado. Apparently he and Van Gogh had been following the trial and were fascinated by all the lurid details. I always associate guillotines with the French Revolution and The Reign of Terror - it’s amazing to think that they were still used in France (and elsewhere) well into the twentieth century. Was this the inspiration for the severed-head theme? Wherever it came from, Gauguin’s macabre pot is a tremendously powerful object…what do you think?