Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portraits: Explore & Download a Collection of 17 Paintings Free Online

“They say — and I glad­ly believe it — that it is dif­fi­cult to know your­self,” Vin­cent Van Gogh once wrote to his broth­er Theo, “but it isn’t easy to paint one­self either.” This from one of the most pro­lif­ic self-por­traitists of all time. Between the years 1885 and 1889, Van Gogh paint­ed him­self more than 35 times, most of them dur­ing the two years in the mid­dle when he lived in Paris. Always short of funds, but espe­cial­ly strait­ened there, he saved the cost of hir­ing mod­els by invest­ing in a mir­ror instead.

That mir­ror, Van Gogh wrote in anoth­er let­ter, was “good enough to enable me to work from my image in default of a mod­el, because if I can man­age to paint the col­or­ing of my own head, which is not to be done with­out some dif­fi­cul­ty, I shall like­wise be able to paint the heads of oth­er good souls, men and women.” At the Van Gogh Muse­um’s online col­lec­tion you can browse up close and in detail — as well as down­load — sev­en­teen exam­ples of the painter’s essays in his own head col­or, and much else about him­self besides.

We’ve all seen Van Gogh’s two or three most well-known self-por­traits. The most famous of those, 1889’s Self-Por­trait With a Ban­daged Ear (one of two paint­ed that year), hints at the act of self-muti­la­tion that fol­lowed one of his many quar­rels with his friend and col­league Paul Gau­guin. Held at the Cour­tauld Gallery, that paint­ing does­n’t appear on the Van Gogh Muse­um’s site, but those that do reveal aspects of the painter (lit­er­al­ly, in some cas­es) artis­ti­cal­ly unex­plored by his more wide­ly seen works.

Take Self-Por­trait as a Painter at the top of the post, an unusu­al depic­tion in that Van Gogh makes ref­er­ence in it to his pro­fes­sion. Cre­at­ed between Decem­ber 1887 and Feb­ru­ary 1888, this final Parisian work includes a palette, paint­brush­es, and an easel, but the way in which Van Gogh paint­ed it tells us some­thing more: “He showed that he was a mod­ern artist by using a new paint­ing style, with bright, almost unblend­ed col­ors,” says the Van Gogh Muse­um’s web site, “the blue of his smock, for instance, and the orange-red of his beard” cho­sen to inten­si­fy one anoth­er.

Dif­fer­ent self-por­traits empha­size dif­fer­ent dis­tinc­tive ele­ments of Van Gogh’s appear­ance and self-pre­sen­ta­tion. In 1887’s Self-Por­trait with Straw Hat he wears the tit­u­lar piece of head­wear that allows him to use his beloved col­or yel­low, even as he “exam­ines us with one blue and one green eye.” In some self-por­traits he goes not just with­out a hat but with­out any of the accou­trements of his work at all, includ­ing his artist’s smock. In oth­ers, as in the Adolphe Mon­ti­cel­li-inspired exam­ple here, he smokes a pipe; in the clear­ly Impres­sion­ist-influ­enced self-por­trait just above, he opts for both pipe and hat. Yet we can always rec­og­nize Van Gogh by the inten­si­ty of his expres­sion — or as Dou­glas Cou­p­land less rev­er­ent­ly put it, his “self­ie face.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Explore 1400 Paint­ings & Draw­ings by Vin­cent van Gogh–and Much More–at the Van Gogh Museum’s Online Col­lec­tion

Down­load Hun­dreds of Van Gogh Paint­ings, Sketch­es & Let­ters in High Res­o­lu­tion

Expe­ri­ence the Van Gogh Muse­um in 4K Res­o­lu­tion: A Video Tour in Sev­en Parts

Watch as Van Gogh’s Famous Self-Por­trait Morphs Into a Pho­to­graph

Van Gogh’s “Star­ry Night” and “Self Por­trait” Paint­ed on Dark Water, Using a Tra­di­tion­al Turk­ish Art Form

Dis­cov­ered: The Only Known Pic­ture of Vin­cent Van Gogh as an Adult Artist? (Maybe, Maybe Not)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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