Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear 1889

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear 1889
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
Oil on canvas 60.0 x 49.0 cm. Arles: January, 1889
London: Courtauld Institute Galleries

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From Courtauld Institute Galleries:
This self-portrait was painted shortly after Van Gogh returned home from hospital having mutilated his own ear.
The prominent bandage shows that the context of this event is important. Van Gogh depicts himself in his studio, wearing his overcoat and a hat. Is it cold in the studio, or is this a sign of a lack of permanence?
His facial expression is still and melancholy, as though he is contemplating his position as an artist.
On the left, a blank canvas suggests that there is more work to come from this artist, as indeed there was, and a Japanese print on the right relates to an area of great artistic interest for him.
This is a manipulated copy of a real print by Sato Torakiyo, owned by Van Gogh and pinned on the wall in his studio. In order to fit his own face into the composition, Van Gogh has shifted the figures and Mount Fuji across to the right.
Japan, much like Arles, was an exotic place of escape in Van Gogh’s imagination, and the two are condensed here, much as they are in The Crau at Arles: Peach Trees in Blossom(1889), also in the Courtauld’s collection, in which a snow-capped mountain in the background seems to recall Mount Fuji.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 29 July 1888.
My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your kind letter. If you recall, mine ended with: we’re getting old, that’s what is and the rest is imagination and doesn’t exist. Now, I said that even more for myself, than for you. And I said it feeling the absolute necessity for me to act accordingly, to work, not more, perhaps, but with a more serious conception.
Now you talk about the emptiness you sometimes feel; that’s just the same thing that I have, too. Considering, if you will, the times in which we live as a true and great revival of art, the moth-eaten and official tradition, which is still on its feet, but which is at bottom powerless and bone-idle, the new painters, alone, poor, treated like madmen and as a result of this treatment becoming so in fact, at least as far as their social life is concerned.
Then remember that you do exactly the same work as these primitive painters, since you provide them with money and you sell their canvases for them, which enables them to produce others. If a painter ruins his character by working hard at painting, which makes him sterile for many things, for family life, &c. &c.
If as a consequence he paints not only with paint but with self-denial and self-abnegation and a broken heart.
Not only are you not paid for your own work either, but it costs you exactly the same as this effacement of personality, half deliberate, half accidental, costs a painter. This is to say that if you do painting indirectly, you’re more productive than me, for example. The more completely you become a dealer, the more you become an artist. Just as I very much hope to be in the same case... The more I become dissipated, ill, a broken pitcher, the more I too become a creative artist in that great revival of art of which we’re speaking.
These things are indeed so, but this eternally existing art and this revival — this green shoot growing from the roots of the old felled trunk — these are things so spiritual that a kind of melancholy remains with us when we reflect that at less expense we could have made life instead of making art. You really ought, if you can, to make me feel that art is alive, you who perhaps love art more than I do.
I say to myself that that doesn’t have to do with art, but with me, that the only way for me to regain self-confidence and tranquillity is by doing better.
And here we are again at the end of my last letter — I’m getting old, but it’s only imagination if I were to believe that art is an old, stale thing. Now, if you know what a ‘mousmé’ is (you’ll know when you’ve read Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème), I’ve just painted one. It took me my whole week, I wasn’t able to do anything else, having been not too well again. That’s what annoys me, if I’d been well I’d have knocked off some more landscapes in between times. But in order to finish off my mousmé I had to save my mental powers. A mousmé is a Japanese girl — Provençale in this case — aged between 12 and 14. That makes 2 figures, the Zouave,4 and her, that I have.
Look after your health, take baths, especially if Gruby recommends that you do. Because you’ll see in 4 years, the years by which I’m older than you, how far relative health is necessary in order to be able to work. Now we who work with our heads, our only and unique means of avoiding being finished too soon is the artificial prolongation of modern hygiene, rigorously followed, as far as we can endure it. Because I for one don’t do everything that I should do. And a little good cheer is better than any other remedy.
I have a letter from Russell. He says that he would have written to me before had it not been that his move to Belle-Île had absorbed him. He’s there now, and says that he’d be pleased if sooner or later I came to spend some time there. He still wants to do my portrait again. He even says, ‘I would have gone to Boussod’s to see the Gauguin, negresses talking, had it not been that I was prevented from doing so for the same reason’.
In short, he’s not refusing to buy one, but is making it understood that he wouldn’t want poorer quality than ours. You see that this is in any case better than nothing at all. I’ll write this to Gauguin and will ask him for croquis of paintings. We shouldn’t push this business and give up on R. for the time being, but consider the thing as an ongoing piece of business that will come off.
And the same for Guillaumin, I’d like him to buy a figure by G.
He says he’s received a very fine bust of his wife from Rodin, and that on that occasion he lunched with Claude Monet and that he saw the 10 paintings of Antibes then. I’m sending him Geffroy’s article. He makes a very good critique of the Monets, first of all liking them very much: the difficulty attacked, the envelope of coloured air, the colour. Now after that he says, what must be repeated is that it all lacks construction everywhere, for example, with him a tree will have far too much foliage for the size of the trunk, and so always and everywhere, from the point of view of the reality of things, from the point of view of a whole number of laws of nature, he’s pretty well hopeless. He ends by saying that this quality of attacking difficulties is what everyone should have.
I’ve received from Bernard 10 croquis like his brothel; there are 3 of them that are in the style of Redon; the enthusiasm that he has for that I don’t much share myself. But there’s a woman washing herself, very Rembrandtesque, or in the style of Goya, and a very strange landscape with figures.
He expressly forbids me to send them to you, but you’ll receive them by the same post. I think Russell will buy something else from Bernard. Now I’ve seen work by this Boch; it’s rigorously Impressionist but not powerful, at this moment when this new technique is still preoccupying him too much to allow him to be himself. He’ll become stronger and will bring out his individuality, I think. But MacKnight does watercolours of the power of those by Destrée, you know, that vile Dutchman we knew back in the old days. However, he’d washed some small still lifes, yellow jug on purple foreground, red jug on green, orange jug on blue: better, but it’s pretty poor.
The village where they’re staying is pure Millet, small peasants, nothing but that, totally rustic and intimate. That character completely escapes them. I believe that MacKnight has civilized and converted to civilized Christianity his lout of a landlord. At least, when you go there that scoundrel and his worthy spouse shake your hand — it’s in a café, of course — when you ask for a drink they have ways of refusing the money, ‘Oh, I couldn’t take money from an artiss’ (with two s’s). Anyhow, it’s their own fault that it’s appalling, and this Boch must be getting pretty dull-witted with MacKnight. I think MacKnight has money, but not much. So they contaminate the village; if it weren’t for that, I’d go there often to work there. What one ought to do there is not talk to civilized people; but they know the stationmaster and a score of bloody nuisances, and that’s largely why they don’t do a damned thing. I’ve already said that to Mourier, who once used to believe that MacKnight got on highly intelligently with the ‘man of the fields’.

Naturally, these simple and naive people of the fields make fun of them, and despise them. On the contrary, if you do your work there without worrying about the village idlers with their stiff collars, then you can go into the homes of the peasants, enabling them to earn a few sous. And then that bloody Fontvieille would be a treasure to them, but the natives are — Zola’s small peasants, innocent and gentle beings, as we know. It’s likely that MacKnight will shortly do little landscapes with sheep, for boxes of sweets.
Not just my paintings, but I myself most of all, I had recently become wild-eyed, a bit like Hugo van der Goes in the painting by Emile Wauters.
But having had all my beard carefully shaved off, I believe that I have as much of the very placid abbot in the same painting as of the mad painter so intelligently depicted in it. And I’m not unhappy to be somewhere between the two, because you have to live.
Especially as there’s no getting away from the fact that one day or another there could be a crisis if you changed as far as your position with the Boussods was concerned. One more reason for maintaining relations with artists on my part as well as on yours.
Besides, I believe I’ve told the truth, all the same. If I succeeded in bringing back in prices the money spent, I would be doing no more than my duty. And the practical thing I can do is the portrait. As far as drinking too much goes... I don’t know if it’s bad. But just look at Bismarck, who in any case is very practical and very intelligent. His little doctor told him he was drinking too much and that he’d overtaxed himself all his life, from his stomach to his brain. B. stopped drinking there and then. Since then he’s lost ground and is dragging along. He must really be laughing inside at his doctor, whom fortunately for him he didn’t consult too soon. Anyway, good handshake.
Ever yours,

Remember that with Gauguin we should in no way change the idea of coming to his aid if the proposal is acceptable as it stands, but we don’t need him. So, as far as working alone goes, don’t believe that it bothers me, and don’t press the matter for me, be fully assured of that.
The portrait of a young girl is on a white background strongly tinted with Veronese green, the bodice is striped blood-red and purple. The skirt is royal blue with large orange-yellow stippling. The matt areas of flesh are yellow grey, the hair purplish, the eyebrows black, and the eyelashes, the eyes orange and Prussian blue; a sprig of oleander between the fingers, because the 2 hands are included.