The Emotional Impact of Color
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)
'Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear', 1887
(oil on canvas)
This self portrait with a bandaged ear is one of two famous versions.
It was Van Gogh's dream to form an artists' colony in Arles with his friend, the painter Paul Gauguin. After Gauguin's arrival it gradually became obvious that their personalities clashed and they could not work together. They frequently quarreled and after one exchange Van Gogh lost his self control and attacked Gauguin. This resulted in the famous incident when Van Gogh, overwhelmed by remorse and depression, cut off the lobe of his ear.
This painting, which was created within two weeks of that breakdown, is most certainly the calm after the storm. He takes a quiet and detached look at himself and expresses a feeling of renewed hope through his bright colors and simplified drawing. A clue to the origin of this bold style is found in the Japanese woodblock print on the wall behind him.
Van Gogh suffered from a nervous condition which caused him to experience extreme mood swings. Although his illness was responsible for his dark periods of depression and eventual death, he also experienced periods of elation when he painted with a unique understanding of the emotional impact of color and how to use it at its highest pitch. People seem to instinctively recognise this quality when they look at his paintings and they appreciate the great personal price he paid for the masterpieces that he created. This is what makes Van Gogh one of the most popular artists in the history of art.