Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, 1887
Vincent spent almost two years in Paris between 1886 and 1888, and while there he produced over twenty self-portraits, including this commanding Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat. As an impoverished artist striving to make a name for himself and improve his command of figure painting, he served as his own best model. Free and available at a moment’s notice, all he required was a good mirror. Self-portraiture allowed him to experiment with different artistic styles, color theory, and even his own identity (or at least different hats). Though Van Gogh has often been described as socially maladroit, while in Paris he became friendly with several avant-garde artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Signac, and Émile Bernard.
Exposed to the latest currents in art, Van Gogh was especially drawn to Pointillism. He took its methodically placed and equally sized dots and stretched them into longer lines, freely applied in every direction. This self-portrait represents the Dutch artist’s most radical exploration of color theory to date, and makes Seurat’s technique look timid and sedate. Van Gogh placed bold strokes of complementary colors next to each other; red and green stripes make up his beard and eyes, while blue and orange rays scatter around his head to create the background. Not only is a kind of halo evoked around the face, but the entire picture, figure and ground, pulsates with energy and movement.