National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Self-Portrait Vincent van Gogh (painter)
Dutch, 1853 - 1890
Self-Portrait, 1889
oil on canvas
overall: 57.79 × 44.5 cm (22 3/4 × 17 1/2 in.) framed: 82.9 x 69.2 x 6.7 cm (32 5/8 x 27 1/4 x 2 5/8 in.)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney
Not on View
From the Tour: Vincent van Gogh
Object 4 of 7

Van Gogh made this self-portrait—one of at least thirty-six that he painted—while staying in the asylum at St.-Rémy. For six weeks he was confined to his room. When able to paint once more, this was the first canvas he made. He observed to his brother Theo:

They say—and I am willing to believe it—that it is difficult to know yourself—but it isn't easy to paint yourself either. So I am working on two portraits of myself at this moment—for want of another model—because it is more than time I did a little figure work. One I began the day I got up; I was thin and pale as a ghost. It is dark violet blue and the head whitish with yellow hair, so it has a color effect.

Van Gogh believed strongly that only by working could he restore his health—and in this image he holds a palette and brushes, and wears a painter's smock. The fervor and fragility that defined his life are told by stark contrasts of color and restless brushstrokes, no less than by his penetrating eyes and wavering contours. Van Gogh painted another, calmer self-portrait at about the same time, but this one, he believed, captured his "true character."

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