Self-Portrait, 1888

Charles Laval (1862-1894)

  • Oil on Canvas, 50 x 60 cm
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
    (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)

Charles Laval was Paul Gauguin’s travelling companion when the artist went to Martinique in 1887. On their return from this island paradise both artists settled in Pont-Aven in Brittany. Here Laval painted this self-portrait, posing himself in front of a window through which can be seen a garden with a colourful tree. The artist painted the tree, the glass and his face with short, generally vertical brushstrokes. Other parts of the painting, such as the grass and clothing, are more sketchy in treatment, creating an effect reminiscent of a watercolour.

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Very powerful, very distinguished

Laval’s self-portrait was the product of an agreement between Van Gogh and several of his painter friends. Van Gogh asked Laval, Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard to send him a portrait, in exchange for one of his own self-portraits. Van Gogh was extremely impressed by Laval’s contribution. He even included a small drawing of the work in a letter to Theo, in order to give his brother an impression of the painting. He described the self-portrait as ‘very powerful, very distinguished’ and ‘precisely one of the paintings that you talk about: that one has in one’s possession before others have recognised the talent.’

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