Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear Vincent van Gogh Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Shortly after Van Gogh was released from hospital having cut his own ear, he painted the Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear in his home.

The head is turned to make the bandage prominent giving the importance of the event's context. The portrait is located in Van Gogh's studio and he is wearing his overcoat and hat. This may point to a lack of permanence or it may have simply been cold in the studio while he worked. The facial expression is melancholy and contemplative. It is as though Van Gogh is questioning his position in the world after his recent experiences. The left side of the painting shows a blank canvas which symbolises Van Gogh's intent to keep producing paintings. Meanwhile, the right shows a Japanese print which was an artistic area the painter took great interest in.

Van Gogh did own a copy of this print which was originally produced by Sato Torayiko and it was pinned to the wall of his studio. The print's composition had to be altered with Mt Fuji and the figures moved to the right so they could be seen beside Van Gogh's face. Japan and Arles were exotic places that Van Gogh could escape to within his imagination. Both of these places are brought together within this painting like they are in La Crau with Peach Trees in Blossom (1889). In that painting, Mt Fuki is recalled via a snow-capped mountain seen in the background.

The Painting Technique

Van Gogh was known for long brushstrokes and in this piece, they are seen to run vertically. The only variation occurs within the hat and the face where they sometimes curve and swirl. While the techniques employed in this painting suggest fine control, the colour choice for the face tells of inner turmoil. Van Gogh often created his own unstable colours and this was the case here. In the background, the cadmium yellow has faded to grey in places as time causes the chemical composition of the paint to change.

While Van Gogh's technique is usually described as impressionistic, it is not technically true. His expression comes from closely observing nature. His strong outlines and regular brush-strokes separate his work from that of the earlier impressionists. Instead, he is usually described as a "Post-Impressionist". Inspecting the white paint used on the canvas behind Van Gogh, it is suggested that he may have intended to paint another figure in red there. However, this image has faded and is now only white. In this way, Japan has been lost much like Arles.