As I mentioned in my recent journal post My One and Only Self-Portrait, Van Gogh comes to mind when I think of self-portraits. After I wrote it I thought to myself I wonder why that is? My first thought was that it must be because of his unique bold, colorful brushwork (unusual for portraiture) that his face has left a lasting impression on me. Secondly, it could be that he was such a tortured soul that his self-portraits reflect his many moods and inner conflicts. Many artists have painted their own face but Van Gogh’s stands out to me. After doing a little research I discovered that Vincent Van Gogh painted 36 self-portraits in his ten years of painting, most of them from 1886-1889.
He wanted to be taken seriously as a painter believing that portraiture might help him get noticed. He also believed that portrait painting would help him develop his skills and better understand color. Unable to afford models and as he wrote in a letter to his brother Theo “for want of another model”, he painted himself with the use of a mirror.
Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime titled Red Vineyard at Arles. His self-portrait shown below is now one of the most expensive paintings of all-time having recently sold for $71.5 million dollars.
I loved what Van Gogh wrote his brother discussing his self-portraits: “They say-and I gladly believe it-that it is difficult to know yourself, but it isn’t easy to paint oneself either. For the time being, I am working on two portraits of myself-since I have no other models-for it is high time for me to paint some figures. One of them I started the first day I got up; I was thin and pale like a ghost. It is dark blue-violet, the head whitish with yellow hair, in other words, an effect of color. But since then I have begun another one, three quarter length on a light background. You will see when you put up the portrait with the light background that I have just finished…. that I look saner now, even much more so, I am inclined to think that the portrait will tell you how I am better than my letter and this will reassure you…..” Ever yours, Vincent.
Below I’ve included a number of Vincent’s self-portraits for you to enjoy. I’m fascinated by his work as I’m sure most of you are. Vincent didn’t enjoy success in his all too short life but his work and legacy live on inspiring artists such as myself to become more creative and to keep on producing. I’ll leave you with another quote of Vincent’s:
“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”