Vincent Van Gogh's "Self-Portrait"­ at the Norton Simon Museum

Before people started taking self portraits with their own cellphones and digital cameras, Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh spent most of his time painting his self portrait in front of a mirror. As a matter of fact, he painted of a lot of self portraits. Then one day he decided to hack off one of his ears and painted a self portrait of himself to depict his external and internal pain. Well, one of Van Gogh's infamous Self-Portrait (1889) will be exhibited at Norton Simon Museum the first weekend of December. This art piece is on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I reckon that it will be a very popular attraction on its weekend debut so let's partake on all the hoopla to enjoy it. Care to join me there? RSVP now. Note its paid admission ($10) at the museum.

I bet your wondering, "Well, Sunny, are we going to eat too?" Yes, of course! So expect a late lunch after we tour the rest of the museum. I say we check out the Locals Only favorite, Brothers Pies N' Fries and grab Italian Ice Cream at Piccomolo. Please note "lunch and dessert" in your RSVP comments if you intend to join me for noshing after the museum.




As per the Norton Simon Museum,

Van Gogh's "Self-Portrait," 1889, on Loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington

As part of the exchange series that brought Raphael’s Small Cowper Madonnaand Vermeer’s A Lady Writing to the Norton Simon Museum, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., will once again lend a monumental work. This December the Museum welcomes Vincent van Gogh’s hauntingly compelling Self-Portrait, produced in late August 1889, less than a year before his untimely death at age 37, in July 1890. 

After voluntarily committing himself in May 1889 to the mental asylum Saint-Paul-de-Mausole at Saint-Rémy in the south of France, the tormented Van Gogh began the isolated and recuperative process of calming the delusions, paranoid panics and poor health that had plagued him for much of his adult life. Only six months before, he had quarreled with his dear friend Paul Gauguin in Arles and then severed part of his own ear in a fit of desperation and despair. Despite these lapses in his mental health, the sustained physical damage to his body from a lack of eating, as well as his seizures, which were diagnosed as epileptic, Van Gogh spent this year of self-imposed confinement producing some of his most revered masterpieces. Save for brief periods during which he was banned from his studio at the asylum—at one point he had tried to ingest his oil paint during an attack—Van Gogh managed to create more than 140 paintings in the 13 months he spent there. These include iconic images of peasants, irises and olive trees, along with his final three self-portraits, one of which is the Washington painting.

The jolting, poignant Self-Portrait is one of the last renditions of Van Gogh’s penetrating interpretation of his own visage. Only three of his 36 self-portraits depict him as an artist, holding his palette and brushes. With his wounded ear turned away from the viewer, he confronts his own gaunt image, full of introspection and intensity. Unable at this point to confront other patients, or reality itself, he assumes the dual role of model and artist. By September 1889, after creating Starry Night (now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York) and painting the wheat fields that could be seen from his rooms at the asylum, he wrote to his brother Theo in Paris about two self-portraits he was painting:

So I am working on two portraits of myself at this moment—for want of another model—because it is more than time I did a little figure work. One I began the first day I got up, I was thin, pale as a devil. It is dark violet blue, the head whitish with yellow hair, thus a color effect. (Van Gogh to his brother Theo, September 5–6, 1889)

This dark-violet picture is generally thought to be the National Gallery’s Self-Portrait. The other portrait could be one in a private collection, or the one now at the Musée d’Orsay, his final self-portrait. Over time, Van Gogh’s “dark violet blue” has changed to a deeper blue, as is the case with certain pigments he used. The rapid, almost violent, thickly painted brushstrokes in the background shimmer restlessly in contradiction to the artist’s deeply penetrating and steady stare. The emerald highlights in his face, the blue of his smock and the golden yellows of his hair and beard are all echoed on the palette he holds in his right hand—pigments that had only recently been ordered and sent as a care package from his brother. The rapidity and persistent repetition of linear movement belies the amount of forethought and precision that Van Gogh applied to this composition; he used utmost restraint to circumscribe the nose with a bold green outline, and he calculated the effects of the juxtaposed yellows, blues and reds, sometimes picked up by his brush on the same swipe.

Locals knew him as the “redheaded madman,” and yet during his lifetime, he articulately composed hundreds of moving letters (in Dutch, French and English) that demonstrated his love for his family and fellow man, of nature, literature and art. In 10 short years, from 1880 to 1890, he painted almost unceasingly; more than 850 oil paintings are attributed to him today. One can only imagine his legacy, had he lived beyond his short 37 years.

Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait will be on view in the Museum’s large 19th-century gallery alongside another painting he executed at Saint-Rémy, Mulberry Tree, from October 1889 (created only two months after the Washington painting), as well as other earlier paintings by Van Gogh in the Norton Simon collections. The Self-Portrait will be displayed through Monday, March 4, 2013, and then will return to its home on Constitution Avenue in time to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth, March 30, 2013.

Norton Simon Museum website:

Vincent Van Gogh exhibit details:

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  • Andree

    I had a great time seeing the Van Gogh and hanging out with the Sunnys! Due to a last minute change, we enjoyed a lovely late lunch at Umami Burger! Yum! Thanks Sunny D. for putting it all together!

    December 8, 2012

  • Allyson Martin

    Sunny, I'm so sorry! I forgot to put this on my calendar, and I had a very long week and overslept this morning so I missed the reminder. Please forgive me.

    December 8, 2012

    • SuNnY

      No problem. See you next time.

      December 8, 2012

  • Andree

    I'll be catching the Metro if anyone wants to ride the rails with me!

    October 26, 2012

    • Sunny

      I want to meet you and try Metro!
      Sent you Text today Where to meet?

      December 8, 2012

    • Andree

      Overslept and have to drive! :-(

      December 8, 2012

  • Sunny

    Lunch and desert

    December 8, 2012

  • cathy u

    Lunch and dessert for me too!

    November 10, 2012

  • Andree

    I'd like to go to lunch and dessert, too! :-)

    November 6, 2012

  • Daisy

    I probably saw the piece at one of the other museums already...

    October 29, 2012

  • Billy

    What time do you expect to finish? Perhaps I can meet you after at Brothers Pies N' Fries and grab Italian Ice Cream at Piccomolo too!

    October 25, 2012

    • SuNnY

      Tentatively, we'll be done at the museum at around 1:30PM and most likely be at the Brothers Pies N' Fries by 1:45ish. Feel free to call me to find out how far along we are. :)

      October 26, 2012

    • Billy

      Thanks, Sunny, I'll give you a call or text you and will try to meet you all after the museum to grab a bite!

      October 27, 2012

  • cathy u

    lunch and dessert if I get in!

    October 27, 2012

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