Self-Portrait with Portrait of Bernard, 1888
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Paul Gauguin’s face bears a troubled expression, for the artist has painted himself in the role of Jean Valjean, the protagonist in the Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables. Gauguin compared this fictional hero, a man rejected by society despite his inner power and love, with the misunderstood artists of his own time, including himself.
He successfully managed to convey a sense of melancholy in the painting. Van Gogh described the blue shadows in his friend’s face as ‘despondent’ and thought that Gauguin looked ill and anguished in the portrait. The painter’s sombre appearance contrasts sharply with the cheerful floral pattern on the wall. Gauguin himself explained that this was a reference to the artistic purity of artists.