Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait, 1889
Loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
At the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CaliforniaDecember 7, 2012 - March 4, 2013
The installation of Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait at the Norton Simon Museum is the first time the painting has been on view on the US West Coast, and while Southern California is home to several outstanding works by Van Gogh, none of his self-portraits are in collections here. The loan is part of a special exchange program between the Norton Simon foundations and the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890)
Oil on canvas
57.2 x 43.8 cm (22 1/2 x 17 1/4 in.)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney,
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890) is among the world’s most beloved and admired artists, yet he was virtually unknown during his lifetime, and struggled with depression and mental illness. After voluntarily committing himself in May of 1889 to the mental asylum Saint-Paul-de-Mausole at Saint-Rémy in France, the tormented Vincent Van Gogh began the isolated and recuperative process of calming the delusions, paranoid panics and poor health that had plagued him for much of his adult life. Only six months before, he had quarreled with his dear friend Paul Gauguin in Arles and then severed part of his own ear in a fit of desperation and despair. The National Gallery of Art’s jolting, Self-Portrait is one of the last renditions of Vincent Van Gogh’s interpretation of his own visage. Only three of his 36 self-portraits depict him as an artist, holding his palette and brushes. With his wounded ear turned away from the viewer, he confronts his own gaunt image, full of introspection and intensity. Unable at this point to confront other patients, or reality itself, he assumes the dual role of model and artist. By September 1889, after creating Starry Night (now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York) and painting the wheat fields that could be seen from his rooms at the asylum, he wrote to his brother Theo in Paris about two self-portraits he was painting:
So I am working on two portraits of myself at this moment—for want of another model—because it is more than time I did a little figure work. One I began the day I got up; I was thin and pale as a ghost. It is dark violet–blue and the head whitish with yellow hair, so it has a color effect.
The rapid, almost violent background strokes, painted thickly, shimmer in dissonance and contrast with the artist’s deeply penetrating stare. Emerald highlights in his face, the blue of his smock, and the golden yellows of his hair and beard are all echoed on his palette—pigments that had only recently been ordered and sent as a care package from his brother. The rapidity and repetition of his linear movement belie the amount of forethought and precision that Van Gogh has applied to this composition; it is with utmost restraint that he circumscribes the nose with that bold green outline and calculates the effects of the brilliant yellows and blues. He was known as the redheaded madman by locals, and yet he carefully composed hundreds of moving letters that demonstrated his love of nature, of man, of literature and language. In 10 short years, from 1880 to 1890, he painted almost unceasingly; more than 850 oil paintings are attributed to him today. One can only imagine his legacy, had he lived beyond his short 37 years.
Art exchange program
In 2007, the Norton Simon foundations entered a new phase in their history by forming an art exchange program with both the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and The Frick Collection in New York City. Works of art from the Norton Simon foundations are lent to both of these estimable institutions for special viewings and, in return, masterpieces from their collections make their way to the Norton Simon Museum. The exchange is an opportunity to promote the Norton Simon collections to a much wider audience while simultaneously providing Southern California audiences the chance to view some of the world’s most significant and visually compelling paintings.
NORTON SIMON MUSEUM
411 W. Colorado Blvd, Pasaneda, California 91105