A previously contested Vincent van Gogh self-portrait currently hanging at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has been confirmed as authentic. The finding is particularly significant in that the portrait appears to be the only known work he painted while suffering from psychosis; the artist created the work toward the end of his first major psychotic episode at an asylum in the city of Saint-Rémy in the South of France.
The authenticity of Self-Portrait (1889) had been in doubt since 1970 due to gaps in its provenance, art historians’ inability to agree on the date it was painted, and an unconventional use of color and technique for Van Gogh. The work was done in more muted blues and greens, and the artist had used a palette knife to create his face. The National Museum in Oslo purchased the work in 1910, making it the first Van Gogh self-portrait to enter a public collection.
Norway’s National Museum conducted research on the work in 2006, and invited the Van Gogh Museum to complete more extensive research in 2014 to prove its authenticity. Researchers were able to conclude that the painting was mentioned in a letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother, in which he described it as “an attempt from when I was ill.” Shortly after he completed the work, Van Gogh painted his two famous self-portraits from 1889, which now hang in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
“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,” Louis van Tilborgh, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum, said in a statement.
Before returning to Oslo for the opening of Norway’s new national museum in 2021, Self-Portrait will be on view at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and will be included in its exhibition “In the Picture,” opening February 21st.