Gauguin Self-Portraits

Paul Gauguin painted many self-portraits during his career just as his friend and fellow artist Van Gogh.  Many of these self portraits included details of his other works of art in the background.  He used light and color not to simply depict nature but to produce emotion. 


His self portraits are no different, he frequently portrayed himself as an outsider using lighting and color to help depict this state.

In Self Portrait with Yellow Christ we can see Gauguin’s use of his own work as a backdrop of his portrait.  In the painting we see his painting The Yellow Christ over his right shoulder and a painting of a tobacco jar over his left shoulder.  The contrast in colors is immense.  Between the two paintings we see an image of Gauguin with a penetrating look in his eyes and no expression on his face.  The tones of Gauguin’s sweater are repeated in the background of The Yellow Christ and the shadows of the tobacco jar creating a unity despite the sharp color contrasts.  Gauguin used much symbolism in his paintings and this self-portrait is no different.  He uses the colors and images in the backdrop to say something about himself.  Perhaps it is the scene of good on one shoulder and evil on the other.  We can only guess what the deeper meanings of this painting might be as Gauguin himself only knows the truth. 

Gauguin believed that there were two different forces that shaped his personality to different extents, the forces of divinity versus savagery.  We see this contrast not only in his Self Portrait with Yellow Christ but also in the Self Portrait with Halo.  The great debate is with which force Gauguin aligned himself more.  Some argue that in Self Portrait with Halo the artist portrays himself as Satan while others argue that he portrays himself as Christ.  In the 1880s and 1890s esoteric beliefs became popular among artists and writers who used Symbolism, the philosophy that there were secret truths that are only revealed to a select group of people.  Many scholars have drawn connections between Gauguin’s works and esoteric philosophies.  It is believed that Self Portrait with Halo shows Gauguin’s use of this esoteric thought. 

In the painting we see a halo over Gauguin’s head, apples which portray man’s fall from grace, the snake held in his right hand was Adam and Eve’s tempter and also a personification of knowledge.  The background is created with bold sections of yellow and red clearly defined perhaps reflecting heaven and hell. 

Find out more about Gauguin's painting The Yellow Christ

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"Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?"

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