Self Portrait


Vincent van Gogh

Dutch, 1853-1890
Painted: 1887


In 1886 Vincent van Gogh left his native Holland and settled in Paris, where his beloved brother Theo was a dealer in paintings. Van Gogh created at least twenty-four self-portraits during his two-year stay in the energetic French capital. This early example is modest in size and was painted on prepared artist’s board rather than canvas. Its densely dabbed brushwork, which became a hallmark of Van Gogh’s style, reflects the artist’s response to Georges Seurat’s revolutionary pointillist technique in A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884. But what was for Seurat a method based on the cool objectivity of science became in Van Gogh’s hands an intense emotional language. The surface of the painting dances with particles of color—intense greens, blues, reds, and oranges. Dominating this dazzling array of staccato dots and dashes are the artist’s deep green eyes and the intensity of their gaze. “I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals,” Van Gogh once wrote to Theo. “However solemn and imposing the latter may be—a human soul, be it that of a poor streetwalker, is more interesting to me.” From Paris, Van Gogh traveled to the southern town of Arles for fifteen months. At the time of his death, in 1890, he had actively pursued his art for only five years.