Here is the only work van Gogh painted when he suffered from psychosis: experts confirm authenticity of Oslo self-portrait

Experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam confirm the authenticity of van Gogh's Self-Portrait preserved in Oslo.

There is a new Vincent van Gogh self-portrait officially added to the catalog of works by the great Dutch artist. It is theSelf-Portrait dating back to 1889 and housed at the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo: doubts hung over the work’s authenticity, but now experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the foremost authority on the Dutch artist’s works, have lifted their reservations and confirmed that the work was by the hand of the painter from Zundert.

The painting had been purchased in 1910 by the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo and was the first self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh (Zundert, 1853 - Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890) to enter a public collection.For decades, no one doubted that it was really the work of the Dutch artist, until some scholars in the 1970s raised some concerns. In particular, the doubts centered on the fact that the painting’s provenance was unknown, on the fact that the style and use of color did not seem to be those of van Gogh, and on the fact that the occasion on which the painting was made could not be established with certainty (that is, it was not known whether it was executed in Arles, or in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, or even in Auvers-sur-Oise, the French locality where van Gogh disappeared in 1890). Regarding provenance, the clouds had cleared in 2006, when the Nasjonalmuseet, following some research, ascertained that the painting belonged to a couple of van Gogh’s friends, Joseph and Marie Ginoux, who lived in Arles at the time the painter resided there. However, it is not yet known when van Gogh would have given (or sold) the painting to the two.

The study that allowed the work to be attributed with certainty to van Gogh began in 2014. Analyses were conducted on style, technique, materials, provenance, and iconography, and the result was that previous doubts proved unfounded. The new examinations determined that the work was painted in late August 1889, and that the unusual canvas type, pigments, somber tones, and painting style are compatible with the period van Gogh spent between late summer and fall of that year. In particular, the Oslo self-portrait is the only work that Van Gogh Museum experts say can be linked to a letter from Vincent to his brother Theo dated Sept. 20, 1889, in which a self-portrait described as “an attempt made when I was ill.”

In July 1889, van Gogh was in fact stricken by a severe mental breakdown that lasted until September: during this period the artist was unable to paint, and the work is supposed to date from the end of August, when the artist wrote that his problems were not yet over, but he felt able to paint again. The Oslo self-portrait would later be followed by two others, which are now housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. However, unlike the latter, the Oslo self-portrait is the product of an individual still suffering from mental pathology: the artist here paints himself with his head slightly turned, and with his gaze not crossing that of the viewer, but as if fearful and at the same time lost, and according to scholars this would be a typical expression of patients suffering from depression and psychosis.

“Although van Gogh was frightened by the idea of admitting that he was in such a state,” comments Louis van Tilborgh, a researcher at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam, “he probably painted this work to reconcile himself with the image he saw in the mirror: a person he did not want to be, but actually was. That is what makes this painting so important and in a way also therapeutic. It is the only known van Gogh painting created while the artist was suffering from psychosis.”

The OsloSelf-Portrait is now on display on the third floor of the Van Gogh Museum, where it can be seen until Feb. 21 as part of the exhibition In the Picture, all devoted to artist portraits. At the end of the exhibition, the work will return to Oslo, where it will be on display starting in spring 2021, when the museum will reopen with the new permanent collection.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait (1889; oil on canvas, 51.5 x 45 cm; Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst)

Here is the only work van Gogh painted when he suffered from psychosis: experts confirm authenticity of Oslo self-portrait
Here is the only work van Gogh painted when he suffered from psychosis: experts confirm authenticity of Oslo self-portrait

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