Gauguin in Arles
Gauguin painted this portrait in November 1888, during his brief stay in Arles. Van Gogh had repeatedly asked him to come to Provence to help him realize his dream of creating an artists’ colony in Arles – a ‘Studio of the South.’ Almost as soon as Gauguin arrived, however, problems arose, and the friends had many quarrels. On December 23 the situation finally came to a head. Van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a knife, but Gauguin was able to escape. Furious and disconsolate, Van Gogh cut off a small piece of his own ear. He was admitted to the hospital in Arles, where he remained until 7 January. Immediately following this incident, Gauguin left Provence.
Dead tired and tense
Some of the tension between the two artists can be felt in the portrait, painted only a few weeks before their final confrontation. When Vincent first saw it he seems to have remarked that although he recognized it as himself, he felt Gauguin had portrayed him as a madman. However, he later wrote to Theo: 'My face has lit up after all a lot since, but it was indeed me, extremely tired and charged with electricity as I was then.'