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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:32

Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait with Portrait of Émile Bernard (Les misérables)

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the van Gogh Museum and we're looking at two paintings both self-portraits one by Paul Gauguin and the other by emile Bernard and there's a third self-portrait associated with these two but it's not here in this museum it's van Gogh and the idea behind all three of these was that these artists who were living in separate places we're going to exchange self-portraits as a way of building a community of artists that were outside of the academic salon and this was van Gogh's idea which makes total sense to me because he was always searching for artists who he could feel really in sync with he got the idea from a tradition that came from Japanese print makers who would exchange prints among each other it's really a lovely idea if it's a lovely idea especially for someone who was as lonely and as difficult as Van Gogh was and you could also think about it in the context of just how isolated it often felt in the late 19th century to be an artist and looking back across cultures and across time to a moment when artists worked together in communities and workshops now van Gogh was down in Provence he was in the South of France Dogen and emile bernhard work together up in Ponte that in Brittany both quite rural places but on opposite ends of friends and Ponte vent actually was an artist community in the late 19th century a place where artists would come together and paint nature and go Gavin had gone there in hopes of getting away from what he saw as a corrupt Society of Paris into what he hoped would be a more authentic place where people lived but more closely to the land so here in this painting though he's specifically identifying himself with a character from a victor you go novel name is Rob and the idea is a hero very much like the kind of year as we have in Hollywood movies today I kind of loner who does the right thing I think John Wayne Harrison Ford these are people who are often breaking laws in order to do the right thing but he is while not breaking laws at least breaking rules and it may be hard for us to see that today when we look at the skin because it looks very beautiful and like many other impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that we love but to 19th century eyes look harsh and garish its colors it looked unfinished it looked on composed Gauguin says in a letter to Van Gogh describing the painting that this was abstract and so interesting because now when we think of abstract we often think of geometric shapes and not representational painting but for go again this was extract it was the turning away from the careful delineation of light and shadow what would have seemed to eyes of the 19th century viewer to be very aggressive painting so let's go back to that idea of the loner how to go again attempt to communicate that idea of the outsiders here well one thing is not in the center of the canvas he's pushed himself off to the left he's placed a floral wallpaper in back of him which he actually makes fun of in his letter to Van Gogh well he characterizes it as a girlish or feminine and he's trying to create a contrast between that ornate whoosh wahat wallpaper and the harsh figure himself he forms that stark diagonal line across the lower left corner of the painting he does it with shadow he does it with color and he does it with the heavy outline that describes these forms when you compare it to the Bernard painting he's given himself a real look of intensity now this is a little bit confusing because you were referring to the other painting by Bernard but Bernard also shows up in the upper right hand corner of this painting what we're seeing is a canvas by Gauguin that's being sent to Van Gogh but they're not paid his own self-portrait in the upper right corner of go hand painting so this is actually two self-portraits and you're right goken really does look mischievous I think mischievous is an understatement as I saw him coming down the street I would go the other way his intensity also comes out so clearly in Van Gogh's portrait that he sent to an intern and I see it as a kind of scrutinizing but kind of questioning to us who are you what are your values are you sure you think that's right is it real certainty of his role as existing outside and revealing the truth even if he has to do so violently this notion of the avant-garde this notion of an artist who stands out that has a kind of greater perspective is so much based in the previous hundred years of French history if you think about different revolutions that took place and a series of political upheavals by the end of the 19th century you have not only this history of political revolutions but also an enormous mass middle class marketplace and it's oppressive it is demanding art it does certain things that looks a certain way that tells certain kinds of stories the traits that the middle class we're looking for that were expressed in the salon were sentiment virtuosity in terms of painting a kind of rehashing of the traditions of the Baroque and of the Renaissance but now in more modern scenes well a much more sentimental and that's what the middle-class wanted was paintings had told a nice story just like we go see Hollywood movies that tell a nice story and outside of that arena art is vilified but these artists wanted to do something different as they are doing vilified these artists are making themselves into outsider heroes [Music] you