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The Van Gogh Museum Celebrates Artist Portraits and A New Discovery

  • Left Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat Right Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait
February 18, 2020
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The role of the self-portrait throughout art history was to mirror the artist’s persona and various aspects of their psychological state. In a contemporary culture formatted by technology, we now have the selfie, far more complex in social terms since it is often used for commercial purposes (to market oneself, in literal terms).

This specific subgenre, as well as the portrait as an autonomous genre, culminated with the development of modernism throughout the 19th century, when artists used it to present inner states, gender or even sexuality of their subjects or their own.

For instance, Vincent van Gogh portrayed himself to express his vulnerability caused by the mental issues that tormented him. It seems that this notable painter saw comfort only in painting, and was bold enough to depict the hardship he was suffering from.

The upcoming exhibition In the Picture at The Van Gogh Museum will focus on the role and importance of artist portraits with seventy-five works made between the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century including Van Gogh’s self-portraits, as well as the ones made by other artists.

Left Edvard Munch - Self-Portrait in Hell Right Helene Schjerfbeck - Self-Portrait, Black Background
Left: Edvard Munch – Self-Portrait in Hell, 1903. Munch Museum, Oslo / Right: Helene Schjerfbeck – Self-Portrait, Black Background, 1915. Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Depicting The Self and Others

The upcoming exhibition will feature self-portraits, portraits of artists and studio portraits by Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Gustave Courbet, Francis Bacon, and Helene Schjerfbeck, and others in a variety of shapes and sizes to unravel the thin line between reality and fiction.

To underline the influence of the celebrated Dutch master on latter generations, the installment will also include a selection of works by contemporary artists who were inspired by Van Gogh’s self-portraits.

In a brief statement the Associate Curator at the Van Gogh Museum, Lisa Smit, emphasized the exhibition agenda:

We hope the exhibition will help visitors understand that these artists carefully considered how they presented themselves, and played with these portrayals, just like we all do nowadays on social media. It is a subject that spans time.

Left Paula Modersohn-Becker - Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace Right Sir John Everett Millais - Louise Jane Jopling
Left: Paula Modersohn-Becker – Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace, c. 1905. Paula Modersohn-Becker-Stiftung, Bremen / Right: Sir John Everett Millais – Louise Jane Jopling (née Goode, later Rowe), 1879. National Portrait Gallery, London. Purchased with help from the Art Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, 2002

Van Gogh’s Newly-Discovered Self Portrait

Among other Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits and portraits of him by his friends, on display will be a newly confirmed the Self-Portrait painted in 1889. The authenticity of this particular work held at the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo held was debated for a long time, but after a thorough investigation, the Van Gogh Museum confirmed the attribution. The artist produced the self-portrait in the late summer of 1889 at the end of his first major psychotic episode at the Saint-Rémy asylum and is considered the only work Van Gogh painted while suffering from psychosis.

It was purchased by the Norwegian museum in 1910 and was the first self-portrait by Van Gogh to enter a public collection. The provenance of the painting was incomplete and the work seemed untypical of the Modernist master in terms of either style, use of color or the place of its origin.

In 2006 the museum conducted another research and gathered more details about the provenance of the self-portrait. The painting belonged to Van Gogh’s friends Joseph and Marie Ginoux from Arles, but the exact date when was the work given to the couple remained a mystery. In 2014, the Nasjonalmuseet contacted the Van Gogh Museum to perform an extensive study of the painting. The conclusion was that the previously expressed doubts were unfounded and that the self-portrait is undoubtedly the work of Van Gogh produced at the end of August 1889. The unusual type of canvas, the pigments, the palette, and the brushwork are all in sync with his output during that period.

Left John Singer Sargent - Carolus-Duran, Right Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Portrait of Emile Bernard
Left: John Singer Sargent – Carolus-Duran, 1879. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1919 / Right: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Emile Bernard, 1885. Tate Gallery Bequeathed by Arthur Jeffress 1961

In the Picture at The Van Gogh Museum

It is clear that the upcoming show will be an exciting one, and hopefully encouraging enough for the visitors to better articulate the notion of the portrait and self-portrait in both historical and contemporary contexts.

In the Picture will be on display at The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from 21 February to 24 May 2020.

Featured image: Left: Vincent van Gogh – Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, 1887. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) / Right: Vincent van Gogh – Self-Portrait, 1887. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). All images courtesy The Van Gogh Museum.