• Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait. 1887 Oil on cardboard

    Vincent Van Gogh, Self Portrait

    This is a portrait of the Netherlands' most famous nineteenth-century artist, Vincent van Gogh. His piercing eyes seek out the viewer; the portrait is personal and direct. It is painted in short, firm lines using many colours; a style characteristic of Van Gogh's later work. Van Gogh painted this portrait in 1887 when he was living in Paris. He lived there for two years, during which time he became acquainted with the work of the Impressionists and modern artists such as Paul Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. Of the many (around thirty-five) self portraits Van Gogh made, twenty-nine were painted when he was in Paris.

    Self portraits
    In his self portraits, Van Gogh often pictured himself in working clothes, although sometimes also in a smart suit. This self portrait shows the artist in his best attire with his grey felt hat and a tie. Van Gogh's self portraits are often seen as studies of the personal psyche, though for the painter this was certainly not the most important aspect. These are above all exercises in portraiture and experiments in new techniques. Here the artist has used several painting techniques in a single picture. The face is built up using small, precisely placed lines of paint, while his clothes are depicted using rougher, looser marks.

    Saving money
    Many of Van Gogh's self portraits were produced out of necessity. The painter had no money with which to hire models and acquaintances were not always willing to make themselves available. And so, to gain experience in portrait painting, Van Gogh used himself as a model. The painter regarded his self portraits above all as study material; he did not make them as complete art works to be sold. This is apparent from the consistently small scale of the portraits and the cheap materials he used. This self portrait, for example, has been painted on cardboard. The brown colour of the cardboard can still be seen in some parts of the background.

    Early work
    Van Gogh became famous with the style used in this self portrait - short lines of paint and lively colours. From the time he spent in Paris until his death, he continued to paint in this way. Previous to this he made very different work: drawings and paintings of peasant life in Nuenen, Brabant, and in the region around The Hague. Van Gogh portrayed the farmers and workers in their everyday environments. For this he used a realistic style and sombre colours.

    Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
    Vincent van Gogh was born in the Brabant town of Zundert, where his father was a pastor. His uncles were art-dealers and Vincent began his career working for them at Goupil & Co. in The Hague. After several years in the art business Van Gogh decided to pursue another course. He became a lay preacher in England and later became involved in missionary work in Belgium. In 1880 he decided to become an artist. For several months he worked in The Hague with the painter Anton Mauve, an in-law whose work Van Gogh greatly admired. While in The Hague he also met George Breitner, with whom he regularly went on outdoor painting excursions. Later Van Gogh worked mainly in Nuenen in Brabant, where he portrayed farming life in sombre colours, as can be seen in his famous painting the 'Potato Eaters'.

    After a short period of study in Antwerp, in the winter of 1885, Van Gogh moved to Paris, where he painted a large number of self portraits. Through his brother Theo, an art dealer, he met many French artists including Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin. Influenced in part by Impressionism and *Pointillism , he developed his characteristic style with separate streaks of paint and clear, brilliant colours. In 1888 Van Gogh moved to Arles in the South of France, where he painted the countryside and the people. Because of the mental problems he suffered, the artist was admitted several times to an institution. Between these crises he continued to paint feverishly, until his death in 1890.

    Pointillism is a method of painting in which the paint is applied in a series of tiny dots of different colours on the canvas. When seen from a distance, the dots merge more or less into a total picture. This method, originally developed by the impressionists, was employed consistently and systematically by artists such as George Seurat and Paul Signac. These French painters were known as pointillists or 'neo-impressionists'. Their manner of working influenced European artists such as the Belgian Theo van Rysselberghe and the Dutch painter Jan Toorop.

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