In Papeete, on 2 September 1903, the second posthumous sale of the effects of Paul Gauguin was held opposite the governor's residence, on the place du roi Albert. The artist had died in the Marquesas Islands on 8 May 1903. Victor Segalen, a young ship's doctor and art lover, had travelled there in a missionary group. Although he had never known Gauguin, he had nonetheless heard about the artist in connection with the French Symbolists and through one of his colleagues from Brest, Doctor Gouzer, who owned some of Gauguin's works. The painter's recent death had provoked little sympathy from the self-righteous citizens of Papeete who considered him decadent, troublesome and depraved. This memorable sale took place in an atmosphere of utmost chaos, as Victor Segalen described. At the sale, he bought everything his meagre salary would allow: eighty lots including this pencil Self-portrait which would remain in the doctor's family until it was acquired by the Musée d'Orsay in 1992.
This highly moving drawing is possibly one of Gauguin's last self-portraits. Although very difficult to date exactly, the harassed attitude of this inward-looking figure and the expression of intense weariness, with eyes half-closed, points towards a later date. It is notable that, in contrast to the image he normally put forward in self-portraits, Gauguin here represents a more stark view of himself. He has his thumb partly in his mouth, like the character of his anthropomorphic Pot (1889, Musée d'Orsay) in an attitude of almost childish regression.