The self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh dating back to 1889 is currently exhibited in the Van Gogh museum of Amsterdam.
20 January 2020 18h31
A self-portrait of Van Gogh with psychosis authenticated
AMSTERDAM — experts confirmed Monday the authenticity of a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh where he displays an air of sad, putting an end to decades of uncertainty around the canvas and regarded by them as the only work painted by the Dutch artist while he was suffering from psychosis.
On the table, called Self-Portrait (1889), the artist’s torment is depicted in three-quarter view, the head inclined down, the empty stare, an expression of sadness on his face closed, the whole in muted shades.
The authenticity of this painting, property of the National Gallery of Oslo, has been confirmed by experts from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, which finally overcome the doubts that existed about the attribution of the painting since 1970.
In 2014, the Norwegian museum had decided to submit the painting to the expert eye of Dutch specialists.
After a scientific analysis of X-rays, the study of brush strokes and references to the table in the letters of the painter to his brother Theo, the experts established that the canvas had been painted at the end of the summer of 1889, when Van Gogh was in an asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, in the south of France.
The canvas is painted with more muted colors than other Van Gogh of the same period, and a part of the painting seems unfinished. “It is a work of art that, for many reasons, was to him, but which had nevertheless some aspects different from other paintings,” AFP Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh museum.
“So we had to find an explanation for this, which has been difficult, but I think we’ve resolved this and we are proud to have more or less returned to his work,” he continued.
Self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh dating back to 1889. The authenticity of the work, previously disputed, was confirmed Monday in Amsterdam.
AP Peter Dejong
The museum of Oslo bought the painting in 1910 to a collector in Paris for 10 000 francs, which makes it the first self-portrait of Van Gogh to be entered in a public collection.
Experts identify now the painting as a painting companion of two famous self-portraits held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Musée d’orsay in Paris, made a little later by a Van Gogh treated his psychosis.
In contrast to these two tables, the canvas of the Oslo museum “is undeniably a person to be mentally ill,” said Mr. Van Tilborgh.
A year before realizing this self-portrait, Van Gogh had cut off his ear after an argument with his friend and painter Paul Gauguin. This gesture marked the beginning of a period of back and forth in hospices and asylums.
“Of course we are very happy” that the painting is authentic, said Mai Britt Guleng, curator at Oslo museum. “It is very important for us to know that we have a true Van Gogh in our collection.”
“Remarkable and therapeutic”
The work is the only one likely to be linked to a self-portrait that Van Gogh described in a letter to his brother on September 20, 1889 as “a test when I was sick”.
The painter was struck by a “psychotic episode severe,” which lasted one and a half months from July of the same year, and although he felt able to paint it again at the end of this period, he acknowledged that he was “disturbed”.
“Even if Van Gogh was afraid to admit at that time that he was in a state similar to that of the other persons to the asylum, he probably painted this portrait to be reconciled with what he saw in the mirror : a person that he didn’t want to be, but that it was,” says Mr. Van Tilborgh, professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam.
“This is part of what makes the chart so remarkable and even therapeutic. It is the only work of Van Gogh, of which one is certain that it was painted when he was suffering from psychosis,” he continued.
The work is currently exhibited in the Van Gogh museum of Amsterdam, and will return to Norway at the opening of its new national museum in Oslo in 2021.