Review: Van Gogh: Self-Portraits

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Duration: 3 Feb – 8 May 2022

Location: The Courtauld Gallery

Curated by: Dr Karen Serres

In partnership with: Morgan Stanley

© A. Papaonisiforou. 2022, The Courtauld Gallery

As the title implies, the exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery is a collection of eighteen portraits by Vincent Van Gogh, brought together from renowned worldwide art collections. There are thirty-five paintings and two drawings of Van Gogh’s self-portraits that still exist today, and sixteen of them are curated together for the first time in this exhibition.

The collection explores Van Gogh’s creative style through a range of genres. There are visible renditions of realism, pointillism and impressionism throughout. Surprisingly the exhibition starts with a realistic painting, Self-portrait with Felt Hat (1886/7) and two study drawings, Self Portraits (1887). The show continues with fourteen self-portraits in his characteristic creative style, including the iconic Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889) from the Courtauld’s collection. On the wall leading to the exit, the exhibition ends with the Portrait of Eugene Boch (1988), which shows a softer painterly approach when compared to his self-portraits, next to Van Gogh’s Chair (1888/89) that stands as a symbolic self-portrait. The paintings are positioned at eye level and in line within the space.

These works were all created in the last few years before his death in 1890, at thirty-seven years old. The Spring of 86 and the Fall of 89. Each artwork portrays his personal development and mental health at the time. Even though they are very recognisable with his trademarked features, they differ in many ways.

The display runs across the two rooms of the new spaces of Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries. On the top floor of the Courtauld Gallery and through the LVMH Great Room. The location could not be more fitting for such a high profile exhibition. The Great Room is the oldest exhibition space in London and houses Courtauld’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. The newly renovated 18th-century gallery rooms, spiral staircases and vaulted basement cellar are full of history and great significance and solely devoted to art.

© A. Papaonisiforou. 2022, The Courtauld Gallery

Our take

Even though the exhibition is small in scale, it is very striking. It is an exhibition of inescapable displays of emotions that narrate a story of self-representation and mental struggles. The viewer is faced with sixteen different versions or emotions of Van Gough staring back at them that relate with the artist’s emotions. Feeling the intensity in Van Gogh’s piercing green eyes from each self-portrait following the spectator around the space, we could not help but wonder what he was going through during each portrait. Art transcends the artist’s self in its entirety through time, allowing audiences to share the experience and connect with them.

I want to learn more:

Van Gogh. Self-Portraits

About the author:

Anastasia Papaonisiforou is a London based exhibitions expert with an MA in Curating and Collections and a background in Fine Arts. She is our oldest patron and graciously accepted to cover this topic for Local Approach; she is available to give advice on discord through our “Let’s talk about your heritage!” membership, upon specific request.

[Edited A. Gkouma]

More from Anastasia:

Curating: a viewer’s perspective

Curating: NFTs

Your Curated Reading List series

Exhibition Reviews series

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