Essay: Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” (1887) at the Art Institute of Chicago

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Essay: Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” (1887) at the Art Institute of Chicago

It was one of those joyous moments in life when, at my home computer with its large, wide screen, I was able to look at a photo that I had taken on Tuesday of Van Gogh’s 1887 “Self-Portrait” at the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

 

According to the museum, this oil painting is just a little over 16 inches high and just under 12 inches wide.  So I was able to get close and still get the whole image in a photo.  Then, I got a bit closer and got a center section of the painting in another photo.

 

 

What took my breath away was how detailed my photo was — and, even more, how I could see each of Van Gogh’s individual brushstrokes.

And my amazement and delight grew, the closer I looked.

 

And, again, when I focused solely on the eye.

 

First, look at the colors Van Gogh uses that, as a non-painter, I wouldn’t expect to see in a portrait.  Look at all that dark green.  And those three little yellow lines.

And then there are the reds.  That dark red outlining the top of the eye lid.  And then a more orangish-red in the corner of the eye closest to the nose.

And then there are the brushstrokes that are, to my mind, just plain magic.  That white upon the greenish white of the eyeball.  Who would think that would work?

Or the two shades of flesh-colored paint above and below the dark red line.

Seeing these brushstrokes so clearly — it’s as if I’m there watching Van Gogh put them down in all their physicality.

Just plain magic.

 

Patrick T. Reardon

2.3.18

 

 

 

 

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