Painted in 1888, Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin) by Vincent van Gogh was painted in oil on canvas and was part of an agreement between the two artist friends to paint self-portraits for one another. This was during the time that Van Gogh had decided to move to Arles and establish an artistic community, where he encouraged other artists to focus on self-portrait painting as a way of further connecting with their inner artist.
Van Gogh chose to depict himself with a severe expression and letters to his brother Theo, who was an art dealer based in Paris, reveals much of Van Gogh's methodology behind the painting. Van Gogh had received Gaugin's self-portrait first, and commented that he, Van Gogh, had tried to capture his personality by showing himself not just as an individual, but as trying to paint the whole idea of what an 'impressionist' might look like, as one might paint 'a simple worshiper of the eternal Buddha'. It is also important to note that Van Gogh did not paint himself as his face might actually be seen, but rather the reflection of how it would look in a mirror. This perhaps is also an indication of how Van Gogh hoped to capture both himself, but also the idea of standing outside of himself, in order to more greatly observe himself as the artist. His letters to Theo also reveal his influence from Japanese prints when painting his jacket, and the 'pale Veronese green' shadow less background stands out starkly against Van Gogh's unwavering stare. This blank, stark background may also be a nod to the psychotic episodes that plagued Van Gogh who struggled with his mental health throughout his life and often would neglect aspects of his physical health. The pale green background swirls behind him and it seems as if Van Gogh is stepping from a vortex, or perhaps the vortex is waiting to draw him back in, with the artist himself also suffering from delusions and Van Gogh would later have a breakdown just four months after the painting was completed.
Although Van Gogh sent Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin) to his friend along with the inscription 'To my friend Paul Gaugin', unfortunately the friendship between the two artists later soured, and Gaugin sold the work for 300 francs.Self-Portrait (Dedicated to Paul Gauguin) by Vincent van Gogh is currently owned by the Harvard Art Museums and can be seen as part of their collection of European Art.