Self Portrait – Light Blue Swirl Background

Self Portrait – Light Blue Swirl Background

" the portrait I did of myself, in which the gaze is vague and veiled" Vincent to Theo, September 9, 1889
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This is one of the four canvases Vincent painted at the St. Paul Asylum in St. Remy and chose to bring with him to Paris and finally to his new home in Auvers Sur Oise, just outside of Paris.  He also brought a self portrait on the dark violet background (F:626) created the same week, as well as an homage he created to Dellacroix’s Pieta and Prisoner’s Round, an homage to an engraving by Dore’.

In this self portrait, he presents a completely different effect than the related self portrait with the darker background by lightening the background to a soft shade of blue.  He presents himself in a matching suit and vest executed in vertical, diagonal and swerving, swirling brushstrokes of blues and greens.  The mesmerizing background radiates energy while honoring the model and his steely gaze from irises of green emerald.  Vincent has forged new ground with his command of brushstrokes by the time he paints this self portrait and he is pleased with it and how it succeeds at creating intended emotions by his choice of color combination and stroke.  It is one of the last three self portraits he ever painted, created about 9 months before his death.

Vincent created this right after another self portrait (F: 626) in September of 1889 in the asylum at St. Remy just after a 45 day attack that had incapacitated him.  These two self portraits are some of the last he will paint of himself before he dies.

“People say – and I’m quite willing to believe it – that it’s difficult to know oneself – but it’s not easy to paint oneself either. Thus I’m working on two portraits of myself at the moment – for want of another model –  1v:2 because it’s more than time that I did a bit of figure work. One I began the first day I got up, I was thin, pale as a devil. It’s dark violet blue and the head whiteish with yellow hair, thus a colour effect.  But since then I’ve started another one, three-quarter length on a light background.”

To Theo. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday, 5 and Friday, 6 September 1889

“the portrait I did of myself, in which the gaze is vague and veiled”  Vincent to Theo, September 9, 1889.

“Today I’m sending you my portrait of myself, you must look at it for some time – you’ll see, I hope, that my physiognomy has grown much calmer, although the gaze may be vaguer than before, so it appears to me.  I have another one which is an attempt from when I was ill. But I think this one will please you more, and I’ve tried to create something simple, show it to pere Pissarro if you see him.”
Vincent to Theo, September 20, 1889.

In a letter to his sister Wil, on September 19, 1889:“Lately I’ve done two portraits of myself, one of which is quite in character, I think, but in Holland they’d probably scoff at the ideas about portraits that are germinating here. Did you see at Theo’s the portrait of the painter Guillaumin and the portrait of a young woman by the same? That really gives an idea of what one is searching for. When Guillaumin exhibited his portrait, public and artists laughed at it a great deal, and yet it’s one of the rare things that would hold up alongside even the old Dutchmen Rembrandt and Hals.”

I myself still find photographs frightful and don’t like to have any, especially not of people whom I know and love. These portraits, first, are faded more quickly than we ourselves, while the painted portrait remains for many generations. Besides, a painted portrait is a thing of feeling made with love or respect for the being represented. What remains to us of the old Dutchmen? The portraits.
Thus in Mauve’s family the children will always continue to see him in the portrait that Mesker did so very well of him.”

Vincent to sister Anna, also on September 19, 1889: “As often as I get the opportunity, I work on portraits that I sometimes think myself are more serious and better than the rest of my work.  And if it might be that my condition permits me to go back to Paris again, or in the vicinity, that will become the main thing for me.”

Vincent in Auvers to Wil, June 5, 1890: “My friend Dr. Gachet is decidedly enthusiastic about this latest portrait of the Arlésienne, one of which I also have myself, and about a portrait of myself, and that gave me pleasure, since he’ll drive me to do figure work and I hope he’ll find me a few interesting models to do.



Painting, Oil on Canvas
Saint-Rémy: September, 1889
Musée d’Orsay
Paris, France, Europe
F: 627, JH: 1772

Where Vincent Was:
Saint Remy

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