Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait

The 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 portrait, was painted in September that year, shortly before he left Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. It is possibly one of his greatest paintings, painted only months before his death. 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.” Art historians are divided as to whether this Self-portrait, without a 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 a beard was the later painting.

Self Portrait, 1889 is both more confident and more aggressive. It is a surly, almost rude and choleric face – as if the sitter had had enough of examining his features for signs of madness. There are deep creases by the nose and cheekbones, the eyebrows are thick and prominent, the corners of the mouth have turned down: it is the face of a man with no more time for friendliness. The snaking and swirling lines that denote the background are used for the person and clothing of the artist, too, and the restless rejection of harmony and tranquillity to which these lines attest sets the keynote of the subject’s facial features: the need to deform and remake has created a new disorder in his physiognomy. The face is not so much meant to be coarse or angry as full of vitality, of the sense of the moment. Painter and sitter being one and the same person, there is (as it were) no need for the model to keep still. The picture is not a pretty pose nor a realistic record; rather, the face van Gogh is here set down on canvas is one that has seen too much jeopardy, too much turmoil, to be able to keep its agitation and trembling under control. It is not, in fact, an unfriendly face. This portrait articulates vitality. And the approach is plainly incapable of idealistic posing.

Van Gogh sent the picture to his younger brother, the art dealer Theo, with an accompanying letter which 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 painting is exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, who obtained the picture in 1986.

Credit: Vincent van Gogh; Wikipedia.