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jtucker's picture


Considering how many self-portraits this man made in his short life, I would venture to guess he was a bit clairvoyant. 

Capturing our essence in an image is all the rage nowadays. I mean, come on guys, selfie sticks are now a thing…

This here is one of van Gogh’s last self-portraits. He painted it while he was institutionalized in the Saint-Paul Asylum for his epic ear mauling/mental breakdown experience. Given his recent life events, it may seem fitting that van Gogh would paint such a solemn self-portrait filled with drab blues and greens. In reality though, van Gogh painted about 43 self-portraits throughout his career and he looks a bit drab in all of them. I suppose a life filled with rejection, drug addiction, and mental illness would squelch even the most chipper of souls.

So is painting yourself forty-three times vain? Now we live in a world where selfies are the norm (in fact there are more deaths related to selfies than shark attacks!) but nonetheless, back in the day this narcissistic obsession was not as commonplace. As much as an oddball as van Gogh was, he did not obsess over himself by choice. Turns out he was too poor to hire models to sit for him, and he didn't have any friends, so he used himself as a model instead. Which is pretty sad.

But the man could make the best of a bad situation, even if he was locked up in the loony bin. I worked in a mental hospital for a while and let me tell you; those institutions are not conducive to happiness, prosperity or creativity. But the confines of this reality didn’t stop van Gogh for painting religiously. In fact, in the year he spent locked up he created around 150 paintings , including some of his most iconic works such as Starry Night.

Being institutionalized probably sounds like most peoples worst nightmare, but it would seem that van Gogh had a pretty healthy outlook on the experience. Upon finishing this painting, Vincent sent the canvas and a letter to his brother and art dealer, Theo. The letter enclosed read: “You will need to study [the picture] for a time. I hope you will notice that my facial expressions have become much calmer, although my eyes have the same insecure look as before, or so it appears to me." Compared to his recent painting Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, I would say things were looking up for Vinny! Or perhaps this serenity just came from the meds...

rzarlif's picture


This is one of Van Gogh's last self portraits, painted while he was a patient at Saint-Paul Asylum, a converted Augustine monastery in the south of French.

Despite a lousy diet of mostly soup and bread, and periodic moments of psychosis, Van Gogh managed to paint around 150 canvases in his quiet confines.

Like Richard Dadd over at psychiatric institutions Bethlem and Broadmore in the UK, Van Gogh produced some of his best work at Saint-Paul. Two points for 19th century psychiatry, despite some harsh conditions. I should note that Dadd was committed for doing in his own father, while Van Gogh admitted himself after cutting off part of his ear. 

In the last year of his life van Gogh painted mostly landscapes, like the famous The Starry Night, and flowers (at this point Irises in particular). This self portrait is a rare look at the man, age 37. 

Saint-Paul Asylum went on to changed its name to Clinique van Gogh, and kept that name the next 100 years. A nice tribute or crass?




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Here is what Wikipedia says about Van Gogh self-portrait (1889)

Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh painted a self-portrait in oil on canvas in September 1889. The work, which may have been Van Gogh's last self-portrait, was painted shortly before he left Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. The painting is now at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.


This self-portrait was one of about 30 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".

Art historians are divided as to whether this painting or Self-portrait without beard is van Gogh's final self-portrait. Ingo F Walther and Jan Hulsker consider this to be the last, with Hulsker considering that it was painted in Arles following Van Gogh's admission to hospital after mutilating his ear, while Ronald Pickvance thinks Self-portrait without beard was the later painting.

Van Gogh sent the picture to his younger brother, the art dealer Theo; an accompanying letter read: "You will need to study [the picture] for a time. I hope you will notice that my facial expressions have become much calmer, although my eyes have the same insecure look as before, or so it appears to me."

The art historians Walther and Metzger consider that "the picture is not a pretty pose nor a realistic record ... [it is] one that has seen too much jeopardy, too much turmoil, to be able to keep its agitation and trembling under control." According to Beckett the dissolving colours and same time turbulent patterns signal a feeling of strain and pressure, symbolising the artist's state of mind, which is under a mental, physical and emotional pressure.

The Musée d'Orsay in Paris, who obtained the picture in 1986, consider that "the model's immobility contrasts with the undulating hair and beard, echoed and amplified in the hallucinatory arabesques of the background."

The Oslo Self-Portrait (1890)

Another self-portrait from 1890, often called the Oslo self-portrait because it is owned by the Nasjonalmuseet in Norway, was authenticated in 2020 by the Van Gogh Museum. This painting, with the artist looking sideways, was painted while the artist was in the asylum in Saint-Rémy and is "unmistakeably" his work. The experts believe it was painted after the artist's letter of 22 August 1889 which indicated that he was still "disturbed" but ready to begin painting again but completed prior to his letter of 20 September 1889. In the latter, Van Gogh referred to the self-portrait as "an attempt from when I was ill".

The Museum's report stated that "The Oslo self-portrait depicts someone who is mentally ill; his timid, sideways glance is easily recognisable and is often found in patients suffering from depression and psychosis".

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Van Gogh self-portrait (1889).