|Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait (with portrait of Emile Bernard)|
dedicated to Van Gogh, (Les Miserables) 1888
(Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)
Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait dedicated to Gauguin, 1888
(Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University)
|Emile Bernard, Self-Portrait with Portrait of Gauguin,1888|
(Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)
Gauguin was the first one to send his portrait to Van Gogh. In his Self-Portrait dedicated to Van Gogh, Gauguin also included on the back wall a portrait of his artist friend Emile Bernard whom he was working near in Normandy at that time. In a way it was a commentary on his situation of already being established in an artist's colony and his expression of looking askance as if to say "can you do this?" added to the overall effect of being in a better situation.
The wallpaper behind Gauguin with the white flowers is the same bright yellow as Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Van Gogh in turn responds with color, to Bernard's portrait on the wall behind Gauguin. It is an incredibly hard to reproduce color, Veronese green, which is not available today because of its arsenic containing toxic quality. With the colors, he uses, Van Gogh represents his meditative side.
Instead of a centered composition of the portrait format, Gauguin puts himself off center and breaks away from tradition. He has put an inscription at the bottom of his painting 'Les Miserables' - with this he is referencing Jean Valjean, the main character who is an ex-convict from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Gauguin liked the idea of himself as the passionate man who doesn't quite fit into bourgeois society. He has also depicted half his face in dark while the other half is in light, which pronounces his good and evil sides. Van Gogh must have picked up on these allusions since he reports to his brother that Gauguin seems desperate and not at all serene. As a response to this, Van Gogh paints himself as a Bonze, a Japanese Buddhist monk, he even goes as far as to slant his eyes as well as a shaved head in the portrait. He paints an aura around his head to reinforce the element of spirituality. He says that he wants to bring Gauguin back to serenity. He also mentions to his brother that he painted himself not only as himself but as an Impressionist, someone who lives to paint.
In their respective self-portraits, while Gauguin is representing himself as a renegade, Van Gogh wants to represent himself as a serious, meditative monk. The composition, the colors, and the symbols all point out the message each one wants to convey to the other. Van Gogh writes that when he put them side by side, he is happy with the outcome, that his portrait can hold its own...
The letter for Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo van Gogh, from Arles, dated October 7 1888 is below; in it one can find Van Gogh's inner thoughts and feelings... Also there is a very interesting video at the bottom of the page from http://smarthistory.org.
Van Gogh, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin from Smarthistory Videos on Vimeo.