As a young amateur painter and future art school dropout, I frequently found myself haunted by the faces of two artists, that famously odd couple from my favorite art history novelization—and Kirk Douglas role and Iggy Pop song—Lust for Life. Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, above and below respectively, the tormented Dutch fanatic and burly French bully—how, I still wonder, could such a pair have ever co-existed, however briefly? How could such beautifully skewed visions of life have existed at all?
Van Gogh and Gauguin’s several self-portraits still inspire wonder. My younger self had the luxury of seeing these particular two up close and in person at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC: Van Gogh’s gaunt and piercing visage, Gauguin’s sneering self-parody.
Now, thanks to the wonders of digital technology, my older self, and yours, can view and download high-resolution photos of both paintings, and over 50,000 more from the museum’s vast holdings, through NGA Images, “a repository of digital images of the collections of the National Gallery of Art.”
There you’ll find works by another obsessive Dutch self-portraitist, Rembrandt van Rijn, such as the lush 1659 painting below. You’ll find paintings from the heroes of the various Renaissances and French Impressionism, from movements modern and colonial, pastoral and urban. The collection is dizzying, and a lover of art could easily lose hours sorting through it, saving “open access digital images up to 3000 pixels each […] available free of charge for download and use.” The purpose of NGA Images is “to facilitate learning, enrichment, enjoyment, and exploration,” and there’s no doubt that it satisfies all of those goals and then some. You can peruse the Gallery’s most requested images here.
Browse the various collections, including one devoted to self-portraits. Conduct advanced searches, if you’ve more knowledge of the Gallery’s many treasures. Use the “lightbox arranger” to sort, store, annotate, and save your own personalized collections for future viewing. You are the curator! And the lucky beneficiary of the National Gallery’s beneficence. While I can tell you from experience that it’s nothing like standing face to face with these paintings in their in-real-life dimensions, textures, lines, and colors—despite the throngs of disinterested tourists—it’s at least a close second. And for students and educators of the visual arts, NGA Images offers an opportunity like no other to view and share great works of art often hidden away from even the museum’s visitors. Enjoy!
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