Best Places to See Van Gogh's Self-Portraits
In our eleventh episode, we dive into the world of self-portraits. One of the stars of our episode is Vincent van Gogh, the infamous artist who actually began creating self-portraits because he needed additional practice. The majority of these self-portraits, were created during Van Gogh’s time in Paris. Because he was short on money and unable to find models, he chose the simplest solution: painting himself! So where can we find these portraits today?
Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
Your first stop to experience Van Gogh in real life should unsurprisingly be at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. This museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by the artist, with the permanent collection hosting over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and more than 750 letters. Key here are his self-portraits, of which we’ve chosen two below for you to not miss:
Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887)
This self-portrait was created in the winter of 1887–88, when the artist had been in Paris for almost two years. It’s clear from the work that Van Gogh had studied the technique of the Pointillists and applied it in his own, original way. The short, choppy brushstrokes hover at different angles around his head, forming a halo-like effect that makes for a unique viewing experience.
Self-Portrait as a Painter (1887)
For his last self-portrait in Paris, Van Gogh presented himself seated as a painter. He holds a palette and paintbrushes behind his easel, meant to symbolise that he was a modern artist using a new painting style, with bright, almost unblended colours.
While the museum is closed due to Covid 19 restrictions, or you can simply not travel, watch this great virtual alternative from home.
A big thank you to the amazing team at the Van Gogh Museum. It really is a place not to be missed.
Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
Located in the heart of Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum is a must for anyone keen to discover the rich history of Dutch art. It comes as no surprise that Vincent van Gogh is a headliner of the Rijks selection.
A highlight from this selection is an 1887 self-portrait with a grey felt hat. This was created shortly after Van Gogh’s move to Paris, after being urged by his brother to move to the French capital to experience the new, colourful style of French painting. Wasting no time, he dove into the new style immediately, implementing it in several self-portraits. He did this mostly to avoid having to pay for a model. Using rhythmic brushstrokes in striking colours, he portrayed himself here as a fashionably dressed Parisian.
Kröller Müller Museum in Hoge Veluwe
In Hoge Veluwe you’ll find the Kröller Müller Museum, the private collection of collector couple Helene Müller and Anton Kröller. Here you can discover the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world.
Amongst the 90 works, you’ll find this self-portrait, a beautiful work imbued with soft blue and green tints. For our Dutch Art Fixers: do read the amazing biography of Helene Kröller-Müller and immerse yourself in her hunt for the best works by the artist.
The Courtauld Gallery in London
Alongside the Thames you’ll find the lovely Courtauld Gallery, brimming with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. Amidst the works, you can find one of Van Gogh’s most infamous self-portraits.
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)
Painted shortly after returning from the hospital, the piece shows Van Gogh’s bandaged ear (cut off by himself!). The prominent bandage shows that the context of this event is important. Van Gogh depicts himself in his studio, wearing his overcoat and a hat. Is it cold in the studio, or is this a sign of a lack of permanence? To learn more about the wild tale behind the bandaged ear, check out our eleventh Episode on self-portraits: Eye to I.
Musee d’Orsay in Paris
The former Orsay railway station is almost synonymous with impressionism and post-impressionism, which makes it a key contender for viewing Van Gogh pieces in real life.
Here you’ll find the famous mint-coloured portrait. In this head-and-shoulders view, the artist strays from his usual pea jacket look. Portrayed formally in a suit, the face is truly the center of the work: his features are hard and emaciated, his green-rimmed eyes seeming intransigent and anxious. The dominant colour, a mix of absinth green and pale turquoise finds a counterpoint in its complementary colour, the recognisable fiery orange of Van Gogh’s beard and hair.
Art Institute of Chicago
At the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago you’ll find another stunning Self-Portrait from 1887.
This early example is modest in size and was painted on a prepared artist’s board rather than a 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.
Harvard Art Museums
If you’re visiting Harvard, then you’re able to get a little Van Gogh fix too.
Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin (1888)
The self portrait in Boston was painted for Paul Gauguin as part of a swap between the artists, explained further in our eleventh episode. Van Gogh chose to represent himself with monastic severity.
National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
If you’re in the nation’s capital, then the National Gallery of Art is one not to miss. This canvas is one of the very last self–portraits Van Gogh painted. The self–portrait is a particularly bold painting, apparently executed in a single sitting without later retouching.
Here Van Gogh portrayed himself at work, dressed in his artist’s smock with his palette and brushes in hand, a guise he had already adopted in two earlier self–portraits. During the first months of his voluntary internment at the asylum, the artist showed little interest in figure painting and concentrated instead upon the surrounding landscape. This painting is the first work he produced after recovering from that episode.
Detroit Institute of Arts
“For want of a better model,” Van Gogh chose to paint his own portrait on many occasions. While in Paris between 1886 and 1888, Van Gogh lightened his palette under the influence of the brilliant colors of the impressionists, but he soon reserved the use of such light colors to express particular moods.
Van Gogh’s stay in Paris was a relatively happy one, and in this painting, created during the summer of 1887, he portrays himself with an almost light-hearted appearance.
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
“I purposely bought a good enough mirror to work from myself, for want of a model.”
Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (1887)
This picture, which shows the artist’s awareness of Neo-Impressionist technique and colour theory, is one of several that are painted on the reverse of an earlier peasant study.