Self portrait, egomania or need for truth?

Self portrait 31 dec 79

Why did Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Degas and most of the important painteres in art history paint so many self portraits?

Was it their inflated egos? Was it the commodity of an always ready to pose model? Was it the need to see themselves as they were? The need to ponctuate a certain moment in their life as humans and as artists? (and how to separe their humanity from their artistry? It’s one…)

Didn’t Vincent Van Gogh paint two self portraits with the freshly cut ear bandaged? Splendid self portrait, by the way… to prove himself and the world that he may have lost a small part of flesh and some sanity but not his ability – no, more than that – not his VOCATION to create art?

Didn’t Rembrandt represent himself just as he was, a sad, worn out but somehow wiser old man, ravaged by the loses (and I do not mean financial loses: loses of wife, loved one and son…) but still kicking, still able to create great art with just a bit of burnt omber and gold yellow?

After so illustrious examples, to speak about my own self-portrait (when I was almost 24 years old) could seem an impiety. Well, it is not. What do you want? to compare myself with Bougereau and Cabanel? I still have to prove myself to the world (probably it will never happen but I’ll be damned not to try!)

This is a 60 cm x 25 cm (about), tempera on canvas, and it’s very red in the original. Unfortunately I don’t have but this BW reproduction… And the year is 1979 (almost 1980). I was a History student and I have just met my future (and only) wife, Norica…


9 responses to “Self portrait, egomania or need for truth?

  1. Great article! I think the reason artist’s paint so many self portraits is because of what you said, an availability of the model, and it does punctuate a time in their life, in a way the camera doesn’t. They are like a seismograph for measuring emotional and mental states. Yes Van Gogh did a couple portraits with the bandaged ear, I agree, it’s fascinating how he knew he was slowly going crazy, but like an intellectual; documented almost the entire process.

  2. p.s. – also what is that art on your banner there?, I like it…

  3. (when I had almost 24 years old) : it has to be “when I was almost 24”. This mistake is very frequent in your texts, and your great page at
    practically opens up with it. Have to correct it. And now that I am in that mode, I would add that you cannot say “à l´heure qu’on est”. Rather: I do not think you can, because the phrase is based on “it is 4 o’clock: il est 4 heures” and never “nous sommes à 4 heures”. See?

    There were otherwise very very few mistakes, so that one is a pity and stands out.

    The self portrait is very good. Now, seeing that, I must say that the little red portrait that you used as an avatar really was not very good.

  4. For edtajchman: thanks for your appreciation! I’m not so sure Vincent was going crazy “slowly” but he sure DID document it, as you said…

    The art on my banner (avatar?) is an self-portrait I did a few years ago, imitating a portrait of a zen buddhist monk (or, if you like, in the style of a zen drawing…). I’m fond of some aspects of zen…

  5. For cantueso: I will correct the mistakes, thanks! Please feel free to correct me whenever you have the time and impulsion to do it! I’m really trying to improve my English…

    The mistake is Romanian induced, so to speak… In Romanian we say “când aveam” = when I had; I translate it mechanically… Funny thing! my elder son, who’s mostly an anglofon (the other two are bi-linguals) does the opposite mistake: for instance, in Rom. we say “are sens” (it has sense) but he is saying “face sens” (it makes sense). See?

    Yes, you’re right, in a way, about my ex-avatar… but the original self-portrait (even not nice) it’s truthfull for the “scarecrow” I’m now… Thanks anyway for your constant encouragement!

  6. You should read “Dear Theo” the 800 letters Van Gogh wrote to his brother. with all due respect, he was most certainly slowly going crazy, he ended up shooting himself.

  7. My point wasn’t that he didn’t go crazy… but that he did not do it “slowly”! You misunderstood me. Vincent went crazy all right, but not slowly but rather quickly, at the end of the December 1889…

    I did even better than reading “Dear Theo” (which is a good book but a SELECTION of his letters). I’ve read (and photocopied ) the 3 big format 6-700 pages each volumes of his Complete Correspondence (the French edition 1962, the only one, if I do know this corectly, who published, in original version, almost 100 % of his letters – to Theo, to Emile Bernard and Gauguin, to Rampard, to his sister Wilhemina – who also ended crazy – and to his mother, etc.

    I wouldn’t dare to put otherwise his name in front of mine, on the blog…

  8. I mean no disrespect, Van Gogh is my favorite artist of all time, an amazing man with an amazing mind, we shouldn’t focus on the details of how he went crazy, but on his enduring legacy.

  9. I didn’t take as disrespect, ed (can I call you ed?) and you are right about the rest: it’s not the gory details of his life (not so many of those, anyway) we should concentrate but on his “enduring legacy” as you said.

    I’ll have a post on Van Gogh reaction to succes on my other wordpress blog, at if you’re interested…

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