Self-Portrait – (spring 1887)
Self-Portrait – (spring 1887)
"It was Richepin who said somewhere 'the love of art makes us lose real love'. I find that terribly true, but on the other hand real love puts you right off art. And sometimes I already feel old and broken, but still sufficiently in love to stop me being enthusiastic about painting."
Painting Date1st of April 1887
In Paris in the Spring of 1887, Vincent was influenced by the groundbreaking color theorist/artist George Seurat and his magnificent Sunday Afternoon on La Grand Jatte. He spent time in May and June painting along the Seine in Asnieres with Paul Signac, a close friend of Seurat’s.
Vincent applies the principles of pointillism as he paints with Signac before the latter leaves for the coast of France that summer. While Vincent never uses the tiny dots of Signac or Seurat or Pissarro, he uses little dashes of color in precise combinations attempting to create varying emotions in his works. He is beginning to explore the use of color in portraying the essence of his subjects be they landscape or live portraits. Vincent’s palette lightens from the dark northern colors of the Dutch masters and their harmonious browns of the soil – to the vibrant new colors available in lead tubes at Pere Tanguy’s shop and others in Paris.
In this self portrait, created in the Spring of 1887, probably in the Rue Lepic apartment, Vincent experiments with the power of red and green in proximity, two complimentary colors which each make the other more vibrant when closely juxtaposed on a canvas. With small dabs and short vertical dashes of red and green, Vincent places himself against a dark blue background.
This background in cobalt compliments nicely the oranges in the artist’s hair and beard. The emerald green gaze of Vincent’s irises is captivating and intense and the green of his iris is echoed in reflections off the forehead, eyebrows, hair roots, beard, shirt and lapel. The Prussian blue of his ascot is repeated in dabs around the perimeter of the background. In this, his most pointillist of all his self portraits, Vincent comes as close to strictly applying the principles of divisionism as he ever will. The coming summer and winter will see Vincent move from dabs and dashes to his own style of swirls and thick, impasto applications of paint as his Paris experiments in color theory bear fruit in Arles.
The Related Items are portraits of Vincent done by two artists he has met in Paris through his attendance at the Cormon atelier. John Peter Russell captures Vincent’s challenging gaze and intensity in a traditional portrait in 1886. And Henri Toulouse Lautrec’s pastel of Vincent’s profile exudes the energy of the dutchman in rapt attention and leaning in to the topic of the moment that evening in the Mirliton.
Seurat’s canvases, along with those of Paul Signac and Camille Pissarro have caused quite a stir in both the traditional painting community rooted in realism and the groundbreaking impressionists of the past decade. Neither of these groups were very receptive to the pointillist’s “dots” nor their “scientific” canvases and few cared to follow Seurat’s path forward into post-impressionism.
The pointillists, or divisionists as they are also called, painted in tiny dots of unmixed color which are carefully placed in proximity on the canvas to other dots of color to theoretically allow them to fuse into subtle hues as the spectator steps back to take in the image.
The post-impressionist artists and writers discuss their theories on emerging styles of art and literature in the cafes and cabarets of bohemian Montmartre by night. Vincent brings in his canvases to places like the Chat Noir and the Mirliton and joins the others heated debates over where art is going next over healthy portions of green absinthe and wine.
Unfortunately, Vincent does not write specifically about this self portrait so we cannot know his thoughts about it. We do know that he uses his own image partly because he has trouble getting models willing to sit for him. He must paint his reflection to perform his color experimentations and does so often out of necessity while he is in Paris.
Spring 1887, Paris
Oil on cardboard, 42 x 34 cm
Art Institute, Chicago
F 345, JH 1249