Monday, March 11, 2013

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait and Ann Hoenigswald's "Dear Theo, Thank You for the Paints"

I attented a lecture titled "Dear Theo, Thank you for the paints - van Gogh's choice of materials and some unforseen changes" by Ann Hoenigswald at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  The Vincent van Gogh self portrait was on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington.  This is part one of a two part post based on that lecture.  This one is focused primarily on the painting that was on loan, in the second one, I intend to share some photographs I took of his works that are part of the permanent collection at the Norton Simon.

Vincent van Gogh Banner

Vincent van Gogh started off doing drawings and then moved on to paintings.  He did over 1000 drawings, over 1000 letters, and almost 1000 paintings.  These numbers are even more impressive when taken into consideration that he was only painting between 1882 to 1890.

One Side of a Letter

 Van Gogh wrote fluently in Dutch, English, and French.  He also spoke some German.  He would often sketch within his letters about paintings he was working on.  These letters are available to the public at  He wrote frequent and detailed letters to his brother Theo about supplies that he wanted for his art.

Line for the Lecture

He considered his art to be primarily about colors.  Sometimes, due to the costly nature of certain colors, he would use colors he called "the maligned colors" and although he knew they would change with time and he would "lay them in more crudely" as "time will tone them down only too much," it is unlikely that he could have known how much his colors would change.

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait 1889

Upon looking at this self portrait very carefully, it was seen that the edges of the painting which were preserved under the frame, were in fact a hue of purple.  This self portait was not intended to be a blue background, it was intended to be purple.  I've adjusted it in photoshop to show it as it was shown to me at the lecture.

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait Adjusted to be More Like Intended Colors

 There were also other areas that changed, for example, where there is only a line in the lips, there once was shading.  This self portrait by van Gogh was one of two that he painted at the same time due to a lack of models while in a self imposed stay at the hospital following a nervous breakdown.  He painted the paintings to prove to himself and to his doctor that he was ready to be released.  The other one was in softer hues.  He said that there was nothing wrong with the other one, but this one resembled him more.

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait Close Up One

His brother described van Gogh's colors as "carnivalesque."  Ann Hoenigswald said that while van Gogh considered his work to be almost exclusively about color, he was selling himself short and I very much agree that there's much more to his work than his color choices.  His colors have changed, but the power of his brushstrokes and textures draw me in and are awe inspiring to look at.

Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait Close Up Two

I am linking this post with Inspire Me Monday


Jessica McCort said...

I have been haunted by these self-portraits that I saw on the Facebook community page "The Macabre and the Beautifully Grotesque" of late, which remind me of the paintings here. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I look forward to your posts:). Alice @ The Owl's Skull

Patrice said...

Love this self portrait

Catch My Words said...

Interesting peek into the life of Vincent Van Gogh. He certainly was a "colorful" personality but very disturbed too.

Lmkazmierczak said...

Interesting blog...I think I like the blue background rather than the purple, but that is probably because that is what I'm used to♫

Lisabella Russo said...

Thanks, I really enjoy the expressiveness of Van Gogh's brush strokes. I too prefer the blue background.

Nicole said...

I really love Van Gogh's work! It's so beautiful and unique.

Magic Love Crow said...

I really enjoyed this post Lisa! Very interesting! I liked seeing how the painting was "suppose" to look like!

Lisabella Russo said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post Stacy and Nicole!

Carola Bartz said...

I completely agree with you - while his colors are amazing (I remember seeing his "Sunflowers" in London and had the feeling that the entire room was lit by this paintings), it's also his brushstrokes that pull me in and the texture of his paintings - especially the texture!

Lisabella Russo said...

I love his sunflowers too Carola, they are magnificent and while color is definitely key, the texture and brushtrokes are enthralling!