Home > C. The Thinker As Hero, Modern Art > Van Gogh–Self-Portrait & A New Biography

Van Gogh–Self-Portrait & A New Biography


RT has been gulping down a new(ish) biography of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh: The Life, by Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The book is detailed and presents a portrait of the man that is far more complex than the understanding RT previously had of this artist/saint. Artist/saint he remains, but with more rough edges than RT had imagined. And then there is the matter of this remarkable self-portrait. After struggling for decades to discover his true calling, in the last four years of his life Van Gogh achieved a luminous understanding of himself. Setting aside the dark colors of his early work, overcoming at last the reasonable expectations of his family, Van Gogh experienced a vision of life as it should be: beautiful and sacred.   RT


Painting: Self-portrait Dedicated to Gauguin (September, 1888); Vincent Van Gogh; WikiCmns; Public Domain.


  1. September 6, 2013 at 5:08 am

    Such a genius~

    • September 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm

      cindy: & his writing is amazing, too… eric

  2. September 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    You describe him as artist/saint, and it’s interesting that this self-portrait reminds me strongly of a religious icon. That strong vivid background, the emphasis on the eyes as windows of the soul, the composition, all can be found in the icon tradition. Add to that the echo of El Greco’s work — was Van Gogh aware of this artist? Churches must have surely contained reproductions — “the Greek” who himself was from Crete and fully conversant with these works of art.

    • September 18, 2013 at 12:31 am

      cg: art is a search for the sacred. i think of the great icon painters wandering, looking for work, and the roving bands of cathedral builders and artists. Some of Van Gogh’s family roots are in the Calvinist missionary movement of the 1500’s. i was powerfully moved by the description of VG’s sojourn in the Borinage, the Belgian mining district, with its appalling poverty and grotesque mining accidents.

      El Greco is marvelous; i don’t know enough of his art or life-story. i think VG may have known El Greco’s work, or at least run across a few of his paintings in his wanderings through the museums. But so much of VG’s move from mastery to genius seems tied to Provence, its light and vivid colors; at the same time, you could say that VG turned inward to uncover his genius, the kind of contact with the sublime that makes people saints and drives them a little mad. RT

      • September 18, 2013 at 9:26 am

        Thanks for the full reply, RT. Much food for thought here.

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