Self-Portrait (1889) has been in Norway’s national collection since 1910 but its authenticity has been openly questioned since 1970. On Monday the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam announced it was “unmistakably” a work by the artist.
In the portrait, dated August 1889the artist’s expression is lifeless and the image is dominated by a dreary and downbeat greenish-brown tone.
“The Oslo self-portrait depicts someone who is mentally ill,” the museum said. “His timid, sideways glance is easily recognisable and is often found in patients suffering from depression and psychosis.”
Van Gogh admitted himself to the Saint-Rémy asylum in May 1889 and was struck down by a severe psychotic episode in July that lasted for a month and a half.
The painting can be linked to a letter that the artist wrote to his brother Theo in September, about a self-portrait “attempt from when I was ill”.
Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at the museum and professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam, said Van Gogh was frightened to admit he was in a similar state to other residents at the asylum.
“He probably painted this portrait to reconcile himself with what he saw in the mirror: a person he did not wish to be, yet was,” he said.
“This is part of what makes the painting so remarkable and even therapeutic. It is the only work that Van Gogh is known for certain to have created while suffering from psychosis.”
The Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo purchased the painting in 1910, making it – in theory – the first Van Gogh self-portrait to enter a public collection. But because of an incomplete provenance and questions over its style and use of colour, some experts doubted is authenticity.
The Nasjonalmuseet asked the Van Gogh Museum to undertake a comprehensive inspection of its style, technique, material and provenance in 2014, and it is the results of these investigations that were revealed on Monday.
Van Gogh wrote on 22 August 1889 that he was still “disturbed” but felt able to paint again. The newly authenticated self-portrait was followed in September by two famous and much more vibrant self-portraits, which are in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
The painting is on display at the Van Gogh Museum and will return to Oslo to be displayed as part of the Nasjonalmuseet’s permanent collection when a new building opens in spring 2021.
More about: VanGogh