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Van Gogh self-portraits at the Courtauld

Somerset house square
The Courtauld Gallery, at Somerset house

It’s an unfortunate understanding that Vincent Van Gogh is perhaps best known for being “That guy who cut his ear off!” Unfortunate because despite the notoriety that act brought him, he was a truly talented artist who deserves to be known for the large body of incredible work he left behind.

Of the post-impressionists, he is arguably the best known name. His Sunflower paintings are also extremely well known, but Van Gogh had a particular fascination with portraiture and ultimately produced no less than 35 self-portraits, most within a 2 year period.

The Courtauld institute has worked with Morgan Stanley to assemble at the newly renovated Denise Coates galleries an exhibition of 16 of those portraits. Two of the paintings have not been displayed together for more than 130 years, so this really marks an important occasion for comparison.

Displayed chronologically, the self-portraiture covers a relatively short period of his life shortly before his death. It shows both progression and experimentation, and a clear desire to investigate himself and perhaps examine who he thought he might be?

Van Gogh in recovery
Van Gogh whilst recovering, painting was his therapy

Whilst all the paintings are clearly of Van Gogh, they are often quite different, and despite being similar poses are all incredibly expressive, with both happiness and suffering evident in them. The portraiture became therapy for Van Gogh also, as a healing process during his period of mental health illness.

Commercially unsuccessful in his lifetime, his work has since become amongst the most expensive in the world. Sheer monetary value often precludes the gatherings of bodies of work such as these, but The Courtauld has really worked hard to bring this exhibition together, and if you are an admirer of the post-impressionists, then this is a must-see exhibition.

Running from 3rd February until 8th of May tickets are available from

Somerset house


London WC2R 0RN

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