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One of Van Gogh's most celebrated works, Self Portrait without Beard is believed to be the artist's final self portrait. Like most of his paintings, it is a work in oil on canvas. It was completed in 1889, a year before the Dutch painter committed suicide.
One of the most expensive paintings in the world, it was sold in 1998 for $71.5 million. It is currently owned by a private collector, and is therefore unavailable for public viewing. During his career, Van Gogh completed at least 35 self portraits. However, this work stands out for being the only one to depict the artist with a clean-shaven face. This unique attribute has made it a favourite with art critics and historians, despite the fact that it is not as instantly recognisable to the public as some of his other pieces.
It was produced at a time in Van Gogh's life when he had been going through personal difficulties, due to a tumultuous situation with fellow artist and close friend Gauguin. In spite of his famous poverty, Van Gogh had always sought to help Gauguin financially. When Van Gogh's brother inherited a sum of money, the artist insisted that some of it be used to commission a series of paintings by Gauguin. Subsequently, the two moved in together to share costs. Sadly, living in close quarters led to tensions between the former friends, and Van Gogh - already an emotionally fragile individual - was devastated by the breakdown of their friendship.
It was with this in the background that Van Gogh produced the Self Portrait without Beard. The haunted look in his eyes reflects the sense of melancholy that he was feeling. Many critics find this painting to be one of the best depictions of Van Gogh's anguished mental state that characterised the last years of his life. His expression is one of helplessness, while the lack of a beard makes him seem younger, almost boyish, which adds to the appearance of vulnerability. In fact, Van Gogh was in his mid-thirties when he produced this work, but he appears far younger.
Beyond the subject matter, there are other characteristics which mark this painting as unmistakably belonging to Van Gogh. He utilises his usual bold brushwork, with smaller strokes to create the facial features and thicker, broader ones for the shirt and wall background. This also lends the face more importance, making it stand out from the rest of the painting. The colours too are classic Van Gogh, with this blue and orange palette regularly repeated throughout his canon of work. Van Gogh himself seems to have been fond of the painting, as he gave it to his mother as a birthday present. This also suggests that it is a particularly good likeness of the painter.