From a podcast about the 1889 Van Gogh self-portrait that was on loan to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from December 07, 2012 to March 04, 2013.
Dr. Mary Morton, curator of 19th c. collections at the National Gallery, describes the painting as "incredibly powerful" and continues:
"The colors that van Gogh is using are kind of screamingly complimentary: orange against blue and bluish-violet. He is using a nervous, almost electric touch--you can see it vibrating around his head, almost like a halo. And out of a hole in this vibrating background looms his head, his face, his fiery hair, his beard. It's an image you stand in front of and walk from and continue to be haunted by.
It's the only self-portrait [out of 36] in which he specifically includes an artist's palette, a group of brushes and a painter's smock, so it's the only one in which he specifically conveys his position as a painter.
He's at Saint-Rémy [a mental institution] where's he's voluntarily committed himself, and we know from letters to his brother has come out of a particularly severe psychotic attack.
He writes to his brother that he's feeling better and is ready to return to work almost as a kind of healing. This is the painting he produces, and I think you can see it's on the heels of something that was very violent and intense for him. He's still deeply troubled.
But he's also during this period painting pictures of roses. He's still having these terrible attacks and going out into the garden and the countryside and reveling in nature and in flowers, as a kind of desperate way to cling to life, and to heal."
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DESPERATELY CLUNG TO--FOR LIFE, FOR MENTAL HEALTH--
AFTER A LONG DAY OF COPING