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While staying in Paris in January 1888, Vincent Van Gogh painted the Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel. Throughout his artistic career, Van Gogh painted 35 self-portraits, but the Self-Portrait in Front of an Easel stands out from the rest.
Van Gogh's many self-portraits chronicle different aspects of his life and his mental state, but it was unusual for the artist to depict himself in his profession. His earlier work, the Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat at the Easel is another exception. This earlier painting followed traditional Dutch styles utilising very dark earth-toned colours.
While he was staying in Paris, Van Gogh met and came under the influence of the father of Pointillism, Georges Seurat. Van Gogh made a few attempts at capturing the technique, but his attempts in creating paintings in this style were somewhat awkward. However, in these attempts, Van Gogh discovered the strengths found in the use of bold colours.
Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel features contrasting and bold colours much more typical of the artist's famous works than the dark earthy tones of the Self-Portrait with Dark Felt Hat at the Easel. Van Gogh's blue smock sits adjacent to the orange and red tones of his beard at his left shoulder, creating a strong contrast.
Van Gogh's use of colour further changed as he interacted with and came under the influence of the Impressionist movement. The Impressionists preferred the use of pure hues, drawing on the colours of the rainbow in their works. They avoided using mixed colours like greys, browns or blacks. An initial look at Van Gogh's Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel shows a grey shadow cast over the artist's face. However, closer inspection reveals that this grey colour is comprised of brushstrokes of red and green, which when taken together, give the appearance of a grey shadow.
Many of Van Gogh's self-portraits appear somewhat rough. The Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel is different from many of the artist's other self-portraits in that it does not have this sketchy appearance. The brushstrokes appear more considered and careful, leading many to believe that Van Gogh spent more time on this self-portrait than many of the others. While many of his self-portraits were unsigned, Van Gogh's signature is placed prominently on the easel denoting the artist's pride in this work, which is why this painting is sometimes also known as the Self-Portrait as a painter.