Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
Vincent van Gogh
This famous painting, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent van Gogh, expresses his artistic power and personal struggles. Van Gogh painted it in January 1889, a week after leaving hospital. He had received treatment there after cutting off most of his left ear (shown here as the bandaged right ear because he painted himself in a mirror). This self-mutilation was a desperate act committed a few weeks earlier, following a heated argument with his fellow painter Paul Gauguin who had come to stay with him in Arles, in the south of France. Van Gogh returned from hospital to find Gauguin gone and with him, the dream of setting up a ‘studio of the south’, where like-minded artists could share ideas and work side by side.
The fur cap Van Gogh wears in this painting is a reminder of the harsh working conditions he faced in January 1889: the hat was a recent purchase to secure his thick bandage in place and to ward off the winter cold. This self-portrait is thus powerful proof of Van Gogh’s determination to continue painting. It is reinforced by the objects behind him, which take on a symbolic meaning: a canvas on an easel, just begun, and a Japanese print, an important source of inspiration. Above all, it is Van Gogh’s powerful handling of colour and brushwork that declare his ambition as a painter.
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