Art & History

Van Gogh self-portrait (1889) |

Self-portrait | Van Gogh

Self portrait is an 1889 oil on canvas painting by the post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. The picture, which may have been van Gogh’s last self-portrait, was painted in September that year, shortly before he left Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France.

Like Rembrandt and Goya, Vincent van Gogh often used himself as a model; he produced over forty-three self-portraits, paintings or drawings in ten years. Like the old masters, he observed himself critically in a mirror. Painting oneself is not an innocuous act: it is a questioning which often leads to an identity crisis.

This self-portrait was one of about 40 van Gogh produced over a 10-year period, and these were an important part of his work as a painter; he would paint himself because he often lacked the money to pay for models. He took the painting with him to Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, where he showed it to Dr Paul Gachet, who thought it was “absolutely fanatical”.

self-portrait

 

he wrote to his sister:

I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer.” And later to his brother: “People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation“.

In this head-and-shoulders view, the artist is wearing a suit and not the pea jacket he usually worked in. Attention is focused on the face. His features are hard and emaciated, his green-rimmed eyes seem intransigent and anxious.

The dominant color, a mix of absinthe green and pale turquoise finds a counterpoint in its complementary color, the fiery orange of the beard and hair. The model’s immobility contrasts with the undulating hair and beard, echoed and amplified in the hallucinatory arabesques of the background.

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