For Vincent van Gogh, the legendary Dutch modern painter, in addition to his persistent artistic pursuit and tragic fate, in addition to the bright starry night and heavy broken mud boots, in addition to the crow's wheat field and bright yellow sunflowers, we also Remember what?

What have we been shocked by?

By what means do we have an impression of the artist's physical appearance and thus try to penetrate his soul?

Like his predecessor Rembrandt, Van Gogh also experienced loneliness and grief, and was also good at painting self-portraits.

"Knowing yourself is difficult, but it is not easy to draw yourself," Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo.

It is precisely because he painted himself again and again that we were able to view nearly 40 self-portraits left by him, marvel at the rich and depressing emotional depth and the aesthetic experiment of opening up the new and discarding the old, and we also expected to understand his personality and his personality through the gaze. thought, because his tragic, solitary personality resonated with viewers in his self-portraits, and these undoubtedly added a more isolated color to him, the "martyr" of modern art, let us Most people are fascinated by his personal life and artistic creation.

The Courtauld Art Gallery, London, UK is holding a major "Van Gogh Self-Portrait Exhibition" this spring. This exhibition brings together more than a dozen self-portraits collected by world-renowned institutions, making it the most comprehensive Van Gogh self-portrait exhibition in history. one.

The paintings on display cover the painter's short but turbulent artistic career, bringing viewers a unique experience both visually and spiritually.

1. Artistic youth who do not like photography

  Born in a small village, Van Gogh aspired to be a peasant painter from a very young age. He collected the clothes of peasants and laborers, and adhered to his faith passionately and devoutly.

He loves Miller more than Courbet, loves the silent plowing of the laborers in "The Sower", more than the fleeting modern experience.

In the era of the popularity of photographic photos, he did not like to take pictures, and only one photo from the age of 19 survived; he especially did not like to take pictures with others, and whenever he turned his back to the camera at this time.

He once told his sister Will: "I myself still find pictures scary and don't like having any pictures, especially of people I know and love."

  He had praised Miller's charcoal print "with a shepherd's hat on his head" -- full of enthusiasm.

He believes that portrait painting can penetrate the human soul and embody the expression of self.

"These photographic portraits fade more easily than what we paint with a brush, and the brushed portraits reflect the artist's love and respect for humanity." "What excites me the most, and is more interesting than all my painting forms, is modern portraiture."

"The oil painting portrait has its own life, and this life comes from the depths of the painter's soul, which is a place that machines cannot reach." Since 1884, Van Gogh has devoted himself to the creation of portraits enthusiastically. Expressive brushstrokes convey the essential characteristics of the model, avoiding the bland, photo-like resemblance that traditional painting techniques produce.

Farmers, peasant women, miners, poor people...the portraits of these bottom figures burn the heat of life and exude the breath of thick soil.

Although "The Potato Eater" reproduces the shabby and hardships of a rural family, these figures show a modest life attitude and simple family warmth - this is the most shocking work of Van Gogh before he created his self-portrait.

  "The portrait of the farmer eating potatoes is the best thing I have done in Nuenen." What we see in "The Potato Eaters" is the painter's body gestures full of love and respect, and in order to highlight strong emotions The contrast of light and shadow - "chiaroscuro" is what Van Gogh admired the most for his predecessor Rembrandt.

Of course, Rembrandt also "led" this young man who didn't like to take pictures on the road of creating self-portraits.

2. Take the baton from Rembrandt

  In the early spring of 1886, the country youth came to Paris - a "modern capital", a bustling, ever-changing city.

Instead of wheat fields and cottages around him, he is surrounded by a fast-paced world of artists and galleries, with pastoral sonatas transmuted into noise and clamor.

  It is naturally the most economical to make a self-portrait. Soon, he used the first oil painting self-portrait to connect with the world.

This painting is called "Self-Portrait of the Artist in Front of the Easel". From the title, we can see the influence and inspiration of Rembrandt's "Self-Portrait with Easel" on Van Gogh.

In "Self-Portrait with Easel", the vicissitudes of the painter's face are like torches, the bright forehead, the tip of the nose, the reddish collar and the color palette, such as charcoal fire, contain the heat of the fire of life, and reveal the loneliness of life. .

This painting by Rembrandt shows that only by examining oneself can one find a soul worthy of depiction. The mind is the place of intense emotional activity and the habitat of the soul. A good portrait painter must first be able to discover his own soul and describe it.

Under Rembrandt's "guidance", Van Gogh also retains the backlit angles and deep mahogany tones in "Self-Portrait of the Artist at the Easel", the right cheek, the end of the ear and the back of the right collar are faintly shimmering and light. It seems to be darker than Rembrandt's painting, the background is empty, the shadow changes are softer, the eyes are firm and sharp, like a student in the master's studio, looking forward with curiosity and persistence road.

  Van Gogh's trip to Paris was the peak of his first self-portrait creation.

From that cold winter of 1887 to 1888, the painter was struggling to complete another "Self-Portrait at the Easel".

In this painting, dark green eyes cast sadness into the void, almost blind, his body seems as rigid as a sculpture, revealing the eternity of loneliness - he seems to be fixed by Medusa's gaze , but, on a more realistic level, at that time (January 1888) Van Gogh had no money to heat himself, so this was also the first "frozen" self-portrait.

It wasn't until February that Van Gogh said that his blood "more or less started to flow again".

Self-Portrait at the Easel is Van Gogh's final stage of self-portrait in Paris, where the painter showcases the skills he acquired during his two years in the French capital, especially his use of color (ginger hair formed with blue clothes) Contrast), creative brushstrokes, and color experiments represented by colorful palettes all reflect the artist's creativity.

3. From wound healing to oriental elements

  One of the core works of this exhibition is well-known in the West, that is, "Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ears".

Less than a month after the "ear cutting incident", Van Gogh returned to his brush and painted several self-portraits.

These paintings are a true record of his spiritual self-healing ability, and his expression in the paintings appears calm, as if he has reconciled with a state of despair.

However, instead of avoiding his trauma, he bravely drew the bandage, although it was not very obtrusive.

He wears a green shirt, his lips are closed, and he faces diagonally forward at a "3/4 front" angle. Although his face is haggard, the painter uses a lot of bright colors on his nose, forehead, chin and cheeks to make his face more energetic.

Van Gogh is trying to appear normal and is returning to work.

  What stands out in this self-portrait is its background, Vincent van Gogh's studio.

Behind him is a blank easel, and on the white wall hangs a Japanese ukiyo-e painting with Mount Fuji in the distance and a geisha in the background.

Oriental art once brought great inspiration to Impressionism, and Van Gogh was also very familiar with Ukiyo-e.

He likes to use contrasting or similar colors, so this Ukiyo-e also appears more vivid than usual. Isn't this the touching emotion he hides behind the colors?

  Elements of the East are also reflected in an 1888 Self-Portrait to Gauguin.

In the painting, Van Gogh has a shaved head and wears a brown shirt casually. The eyes on his thin face are slightly raised, and the eyes are drawn slender than they actually are. The bright background contrasts with the gray-toned face.

"I made this portrait into the image of a monk who believes in the eternal Buddha." We can't help but wonder if the indifference of oriental culture has become the sustenance of Van Gogh's spiritual self-healing and the source of inspiration for artistic reconstruction?

4. The emotion of color, the impulse of color

  In 1889, Van Gogh wanted to resume his creative activities as soon as possible.

The Self-Portrait, now in the Musée d'Orsay, is the most famous work of this period, and perhaps the most exquisite of Van Gogh's self-portraits.

When we stand in front of this painting, we will be overwhelmed by his intense emotions, moved by his surging heart, and shocked by the cry of his soul.

In the painting, he is wearing a formal suit consisting of a white shirt, a suit vest, and a coat. He leans slightly to the right, just covering the injured right ear. The artist combs his brown hair neatly back, has a beard on his lips, and casts his sharp eyes to viewer.

The background is covered with swirling lines. The gray-blue winding swirls echo with the brownish-yellow short and powerful beards. The whole picture retains a restrained excitement, a kind of pervading and spreading throughout the whole space. Emotions beyond the picture, a high-pitched and calm enthusiasm that struggles to cheer up.

Similar swirls to this "Self-Portrait" are reflected in works such as "Starry Night" and "Two Cypress Trees".

  As the Japanese art historian Akira Ozaki said, in order to express his uncontrollable emotions, Van Gogh maximized the possibility of color. For him, painting is not a simple illusion, but something with real texture. That is to say, what is presented in front of you is not a conceptual work that pursues a realistic appearance, but a perceptual work that can make people feel the touch. In order to feel this "sensory materialization", in order to draw the inner fluctuations, color is to achieve this goal. the most effective means.

5. Save the heart, save the soul

  "What moved me the most, more than all my other works, was this portrait, this modern portrait." Van Gogh said of "Self-Portrait in Felt Hat."

Vibrant colors and vibrant brushstrokes reveal his association with artists such as Cézanne, who were all explorers of the visual language of the era.

Hats symbolize social status and occupation, and suggest a certain personality of the wearer.

In this painting, he wears one of Theo's hats and appears as a contemporary city dweller, rather than holding his own painting tools, or wearing a painter's straw hat, as in other portraits in the series, wearing a peasant smock.

  Theo has said that Vincent has changed too much in Paris.

Vincent van Gogh once said frankly: "When I left Paris, my mind and body were seriously ill. Due to physical exhaustion, my anger grew and I became almost an alcoholic, so I shut myself in my own heart. "Perhaps, the hustle and bustle and impetuousness of the modern city have left his pious and simple heart with irreparable wounds. He is tired, discouraged, irritable and lost.

However, in this work he hides a soft energy that is manifested in subtleties.

His face was like a painted mask, and his eyes were shimmering red with green dots.

That halo of faint energy danced and danced around him.

It embodies his firm belief in the artist's extraordinary destiny - that "a portrait can penetrate a soul beyond the reach of a camera", and he says he wants his portraits to have "some kind of eternity symbolized in the past".

  Art historians now believe that Van Gogh's style of painting—the frenetic brushstrokes in fits and starts—was the greatest innovation and the most decisive aspect of his art.

The jagged brushstrokes bring an incongruous energy to his self-portraits.

It was as if he was trying to deal with the resistance caused by the roughness of the canvas and the viscosity of the oil paint. He was seeking a strength to overcome the difficulty between physical materials and inner expression, and by overcoming this difficulty, Reconcile wounded souls, save lonely souls, and transcend tragic existence.

  Faced with such a powerful, unwavering gaze, with such a confident, unyielding, open-minded attitude, with such a self-portrait brimming with enthusiasm and vitality, how could we possibly accept the popular ending of "suicide"?

In fact, the suicide scene rendered in "Longing for Life" has been proven to be a fiction of writers in order to shape tragedy, and the research biography "Van Gogh", which once won the Pulitzer Prize, draws the conclusion through a large number of historical materials: Van Gogh was shot and killed by several teenagers from wealthy Parisian families.

It's just that the great, fearless, compassionate painter said, "Don't accuse anyone. I want to kill myself." "So those kids won't be charged."

(Author: Zhuge Yi, professor at the Institute of Art Education, Hangzhou Normal University)