Monday, February 21, 2011

Self-Portraits: Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh did not have money to pay models to pose for portraits nor did he have many people commissioning him to do portraits, so Van Gogh painted his own portrait. Van Gogh did not see portrait painting as merely a means to an end; he also believed that portrait painting would help him develop his skills as an artist. In a letter to his brother Theo dated September 16, 1888, Van Gogh writes about a self-portrait he painted and dedicated to his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin,
“The third picture this week is a portrait of myself, almost colourless, in ashen tones against a background of pale veronese green. (From van gogh gallery)

The following were created in Paris 

In 1886 he went to live with his brother Theo in Paris where he was influenced by Impressionism and Post Impressionism. The colours in his paintings brightened spectacularly and his output increased dramatically with over 200 paintings done in the two years that he spent there.
#1. First self-portrait that survives, dated 1886

#2. Winter, 1886/7
#3. Winter, 1886/7
#4. Summer, 1887

#5. Autumn, 1887

#6. Summer, 1887. Self-Portrait with Straw Hat (1887), a van Gogh self-portrait done in Paris, is one of his most intriguing yet most neglected works. The artist’s morose eyes stare out from his face in half-profile, facing to the left, and the world-weary expression initially appears to support the view of critics such as James Risser, who explains van Gogh’s self-portraits as a sustained search for identity.

#7. Spring, 1887

#8. Summer, 1887

The following were created in Arles
In 1888, he set off with the intention of forming an artists' colony in Arles with his friend, the painter Paul Gauguin. After Gauguin's arrival it gradually became obvious that their personalities clashed and they could not work together. They frequently quarreled and after one exchange Van Gogh lost his self control and attacked Gauguin. This resulted in the famous incident when Van Gogh, overwhelmed by remorse and depression, cut off the lobe of his left ear.
The full force of Van Gogh’s work is seen in his paintings at Arles. These display a powerful emotional impact by their use of intensely exaggerated colour which was very thickly applied to create a textured surface of great sensitivity. The energetic brushstrokes of these works are the hallmark of Van Gogh’s art.
#9. Self-portrait with bandaged ear, 1889

#10. Self-portrait with bandaged ear, 1889

#11. Dedicated to Paul Gauguin, 1888
The following were created in Saint-Remy, they show the side with out ear mutilation. 
In 1889, his depression deepened and entered the hospital at St. Remy, near Arles. The paintings that he produced here, such as ‘Starry Night’ show a corresponding increase in their emotive power as his brushwork becomes more convulsive

#12. September, 1889

#13 August, 1889

#14. Self-portrait with out beard, 1889

Some other links: 
Information on some of the portraits:
#1: This self portrait, painted before Van Gogh's move to Paris, is typical of his earlier paintings. The dark earthy tones, which are characteristic of traditional Dutch painting, are used to create an image of humble dignity. This work is influenced by the art of Anton Mauve who was Van Gogh's cousin-in-law and tutor in the early 1880's. The style of the image, particularly the beard and hair, bear a strong resemblance to a Mauve himself. 

#7: In Paris, Van Gogh was influenced by the artist Georges Seurat who devised a painting technique called Pointillism. Seurat painted in tiny dots of unmixed colours which fuse into subtle hues as the spectator steps back to take in the image. However, without Seurat's patient and analytical approach to the technique, Van Gogh's attempt at pointillism was generally clumsy, but it does start to reveal the main element of his his true genius - a natural instinct for the expressive and emotional power of colour.


#9. This self portrait with a bandaged ear is one of two famous versions.
It was Van Gogh's dream to form an artists' colony in Arles with his friend, the painter Paul Gauguin. After Gauguin's arrival it gradually became obvious that their personalities clashed and they could not work together. They frequently quarreled and after one exchange Van Gogh lost his self control and attacked Gauguin. This resulted in the famous incident when Van Gogh, overwhelmed by remorse and depression, cut off the lobe of his ear.
This painting, which was created within two weeks of that breakdown, is most certainly the calm after the storm. He takes a quiet and detached look at himself and expresses a feeling of renewed hope through his bright colours and simplified drawing. A clue to the origin of this bold style is found in the Japanese woodblock print on the wall behind him.
Van Gogh suffered from a nervous condition which caused him to experience extreme mood swings. Although his illness was responsible for his dark periods of depression and eventual death, he also experienced periods of elation when he painted with a unique understanding of the emotional properties of colour and how to use them at their highest pitch. People seem to instinctively recognise this quality when they look at his paintings and they appreciate the great personal price he paid for the masterpieces that he created. This is what makes Van Gogh one of the most popular artists in the history of art.

#12: From the Musée d'Orsay brings together all the elements of Van Gogh's later work: a choice of colour that reflects his emotional state and a style of drawing that pulsates with energy. It was painted shortly after he left the St. Remy asylum in July 1889 and shows that he was still fighting his demons. It is arguably the most intense self portrait in the history of art.
This painting is a portrait of Van Gogh's internal crisis. His piercing eyes hold you transfixed but their focus is not on what is happening outside, but inside his head. The energy of the picture builds from the eyes which are the most tightly drawn feature. The rhythms of his brushstrokes spread across the planes of his face, gaining energy as they ripple through his jacket and hair, and finally burst into the churning turbulence of the ice-blue background. The cool blues and greens that he uses are normally calm colours, but when they are contrasted with his vivid red hair and beard they strike a jarring note which perfectly sets the psychological tone of the portrait. This is a very courageous image of a man trying to hold himself together as he wrestles with his inner fears.

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