Self-portait, Why Do We Do it?


I counted about 37-38 self -portraits Vincent Van Gogh painted of himself. There are only 2-3 images of him, painted by others, one a regular portrait made by Van Rappard, another one that I know, a sketch by Toulouse Lautrec… Why this proportion? and why, finally, why did he (or Rembrandt or any other painter) would paint self-portraits?

At the Easel Van gogh self-portrait

At the Easel Van gogh self-portrait

One reason (valid for Van Gogh and for Rembrandt – the two greatest Dutch painters…) would be the ready availability of the “model”. You just need a mirror and here you are, the model is ready to be painted… and Vincent complained constantly about the difficulty to find models…

Of course, this is a rather mundane reason even if a valid and true one. Usually, even when initially this was the reason, the results are almost always more than that… You want it or not, when you do your self -portrait something more gets through, always… Consciously or not, you do more than just making a portrait. You witness a definite moment of your life, you consciously or unconsciously put more in it than the physical features of your mug…

Self Portrait said "a flamenches"

Self Portrait said “a flamenches”

When you consciously testify of your life (the thing André Malraux said it’s the best you can do with you life, “testify of your life” (témoigner de son vécu”), the results are always interesting. It could be a great painting (or not) but it will always be an interesting psychological document.

Yesterday, for instance, I did discovered in the cupboards where my father keeps just about everything (which is an annoying but sometimes useful habit) an old self-portrait of mine which I was convinced was lost. As so many of my paintings and drawings which are sold (for peanuts, usually), given, lost and thrown away or destroyed … Not only mine; weren’t the parents of the now famous Dr. Felix Rey from St. Remy de Provence filling a hole in their chicken house with the portrait Vincent made after the good doctor?

But this one I found again and in a surprisingly good state, almost perfectly preserved after about 38 years (a life time!). Which is a praise and an encouragement to use the tempera technique, a technique I liked then…

Here it is:

Self portrait nov 75

Self portrait nov 75

(to be continued)

6 responses to “Self-portait, Why Do We Do it?

  1. Ion, dearest:

    congrats on the really awesome post!

    Love,

    C.

  2. Reblogged this on nós and commented:
    Awesome, awesome post!

    Congrats, dear Ion. Dear friend!

    Love you!

    C.

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