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Article Precis: Carol Zemel: "Van Gogh's Self-Portraits"

Carol Zemel's chapter on Van Gogh's self-portraits examines the significance of the painter's repetitious portrayal of himself, and analyzes the formation of an artistic identity in his portraits. After discussing the duality inherent in self-portraiture and citing Van Gogh's own letters to elaborate on his intentions, Zemel draws on a number of sources to aid her analysis. Zola's writings about the character of the modern artist serve as a starting point in an examination of the image and role of the artist -- as worker, in particular -- in the 1880's, and a stylistic critique brings mention of Lavater's physiognomic theories to clarify Van Gogh's striking formal qualities. In searching for what she terms the "elusive reality" of Van Gogh's "face and person," Zemel remarks on the the plurality of social roles and identities exhibited by the self-portraits, from bourgeois dandy to peasant worker. A brief excursion into the debate about the impending "madness" supposedly evident in these portraits is resolved by Zemel's conclusion that despite -- or indeed because of -- the many identities adopted by Van Gogh in these works, they do not exhibit a "psychic rupture," but in fact embody the modern artist's objectives and identity.

Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1997 for Art History 452 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Article Precis: Carol Zemel: "Van Gogh's Self-Portraits'." Website Article. 3 October 1997. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/452zemel.html>.