The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the National Museum in Oslo announced that researchers have found evidence proving the authorship of a long-disputed painting—a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh. After a six-year investigation, experts say that van Gogh painted the work at the end of his first major psychotic episode at the Saint-Rémy asylum in the late summer of 1889.
Purchased by the National Museum in 1910, the work is the first self-portrait by the Dutch master to enter a public collection. However, due to incomplete provenance information, the work’s authenticity has been questioned since 1970. Scholars were unable to agree on the precise date of the piece and whether it was produced in Arles, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, or Auvers-sur-Oise. In 2006, researchers discovered that the self-portrait once belonged to Joseph and Marie Ginoux in Arles, who were friends of van Gogh, and in 2014, the National Museum invited the Van Gogh Museum to carry out a comprehensive study of the work.
The institution found that the type of canvas, pigments, palette, and brushwork are all consistent with the artist’s output from that time period. Van Gogh also described the piece in a letter he wrote to his brother Theo on September 20, 1889 as an “attempt from when I was ill.” Van Gogh was referring to a severe psychotic episode he experienced earlier that year that lasted for a month and a half.
“Although van Gogh was frightened to admit at that point that he was in a similar state to his fellow 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,” said Louis van Tilborgh, senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum and a professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam. “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.”
Self-Portrait is currently on display on the third floor of the Van Gogh Museum. It will also be included in the upcoming exhibition “In the Picture,” devoted entirely to the role and meaning of artists’ portraits, which will open on February 21. The piece will then return to Oslo, where it will be displayed in the National Museum’s permanent collection galleries when the institution reopens in the spring of 2021.