From the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France:
Like Rembrandt and Goya, Vincent van Gogh often used himself as a model; he produced over forty-three self-portraits, paintings or drawings in ten years. Like the old masters, he observed himself critically in a mirror. Painting oneself is not an innocuous act: it is a questioning which often leads to an identity crisis.
Thus he wrote to his sister: "I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer." And later to his brother: "People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation".
In this head-and-shoulders view, the artist is wearing a suit and not the pea jacket he usually worked in. Attention is focused on the face. His features are hard and emaciated, his green-rimmed eyes seem intransigent and anxious. The dominant colour, a mix of absinth green and pale turquoise finds a counterpoint in its complementary colour, the fiery orange of the beard and hair. The model's immobility contrasts with the undulating hair and beard, echoed and amplified in the hallucinatory arabesques of the background.
Arnold Koning to Vincent van Gogh. Winschoten, Monday, 31 December 1888.
My dear friend!
You have heard nothing from me for a long time. Now I wish you herewith a happy New Year, and will shortly reply to your letter that I received this summer.
Adieu, more soon
Vincent van Gogh and Félix Rey to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Wednesday, 2 January 1889.
My dear Theo,
In order to reassure you completely on my account I’m writing you these few words in the office of Mr Rey, the house physician, whom you saw yourself. I’ll stay here at the hospital for another few days — then I dare plan to return home very calmly. Now I ask just one thing of you, not to worry, for that would cause me one worry too many.
Now let’s talk about our friend Gauguin, did I terrify him? In short, why doesn’t he give me a sign of life? He must have left with you.
Besides, he needed to see Paris again, and perhaps he’ll feel more at home in Paris than here. Tell Gauguin to write to me, and that I’m still thinking of him.
Good handshake, I’ve read and re-read your letter about the meeting with the Bongers. It’s perfect. As for me, I’m content to remain as I am. Once again, good handshake to you and Gauguin.
Write to me, still same address, 2 place Lamartine.
[Continued by Félix Rey]
I shall add a few words to your brother’s letter to reassure you, in my turn, on his account.
I am happy to tell you that my predictions have been borne out, and that this over-excitement was only fleeting. I strongly believe that he will have recovered in a few days’ time. I very much wanted him to write to you himself, to give you a better account of his condition.
I have had him brought down to my office to talk a little. It will entertain me and do him good.
With my sincerest regards.