Van Gogh. Self-Portraits ★★★★★ The Courtauld Gallery | Feb 3 - May 8, 2022


"People say that it’s difficult to know oneself… but it’s not easy to paint oneself either" – Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo, 5-6 September 1889. The simplest explanation of Van Gogh's self-portraits is that they saved money on the cost of models. The psychological explanations abound! This extraordinary exhibition brings together sixteen of these fascinating works and allows us to trace Van Gogh's intriguing development as an artist. The early Self-Portrait with Felt Hat (1886-1887) shows the influence of the peinture à l'essence of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec while the Self-Portrait (Paris, spring 1887) echoes the pointillist technique associated with Georges Seurat. The contrast of these works with the famous Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear (Arles, January 1889) and Self-Portrait (Saint-Rémy, first week of September 1889) is striking. The development of Van Gogh's confidence and his very personal style is nothing short of breathtaking. Only two small rooms house this beautifully curated show but be sure to set aside lots of time to savour this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. Whether your interests take you on a journey to trace the development of Van Gogh's tortured personal story or to contemplate the path of a painter developing his unique genius, every moment spent in the company of these masterpieces of portraiture is bound to enrich and reward.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (September-October 1887). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

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