Of Depth in Art

However, there are even more personal paintings than those reflecting the mood of the artist at the time. Sometimes, the artist paint something more direct than his soul. Sometimes, the artist paints himself. The self portrait adds another layer to depth of the painting. We no longer have the potential to see just the internal turmoil and thoughts of the artist. We also see the artists view of himself. This creates an added duality and depth, as we get yet another lens through which to observe the artist.
Among the most prolific self portrait painters, we again find Vincent Van Gogh. In the period 1886 – 1889, where he in fact painted himself 37 times. Among these we find Self Portraits Without a Beard which was painted by Van Gogh in 1889 and sold at auction at Christies in 1989 for USD71.5 million. Self Portrait Without a Beard is as such among the most expensive paintings ever sold.
There are many noteworthy anecdotes when looking at the many self portraits painted by Van Gogh. First of all, it is interesting how, even though his art develops in so many ways, his portraits of himself are fairly static. Many of them were produced in the Paris years and the earlier ones thus use a darker palette. However, the technique and the heavy brush strokes remain constant almost throughout. The self portraits in Arles were fewer, with even a few showing Van Gogh with a bandaged ear. These were painted in very early 1889 following the incident with Gauguin that ended with Van Gogh cutting off part of his ear. Upon his move to Saint Remy, Van Gogh only painted himself from the left, thus showing the good side of his face. He never again painted a self portrait that showed his right side, where part of his ear was missing. It is also notable that as he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1990 and enjoyed the most productive period in his artistic career, he did not paint self portraits any longer, though he did paint darker master pieces like Wheat Field with Crows. It could be that he preferred to paint himself only when he felt some level of internal peace, that once he felt the storm truly brewing inside, he did not feel the need to portray his outer appearance.
Whatever the case, the many self portraits of Van Gogh tell a story of a fairly singular self perception, even as emotions and ideas changed. It also shows how the mastery of Van Gogh was easily extended to his own person, thus leading to one of the most expensive painting ever sold being one he painted of himself.

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