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Critical Analysis of "Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear" by Vincent Van Gogh

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Critical Analysis of "Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear" by Vincent Van Gogh essay

The “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear”, painted by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh in 1889. The painting captures van Gogh’s self-inflicted wound following his infamous incident of self-mutilation where he intentionally sliced his left ear with a razor blade following a heated argument with his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin. That being said, this is one of the self-portraits that appropriately represents van Gogh’s tormenting and long standing mental illness in addition to his creative endeavours. This essay looks into the message this piece of art conveys which is that for some individuals, mental illness could enhance their creativity and art for them is a way to cope and to express their feelings. This will be done by first focusing on how the painting captures the severity of van Gogh’s illness, followed by focusing on how his mental illness fuels his artistic inspiration, which for him is a form of self-therapy.

Van Gogh’s self portrait clearly conveys the state of mind of the artist and allows the audience a glimpse into his soul. There are features within this painting which shows his disintegrated psychological state that dreadfully tormented him throughout his life. In this painting, van Gogh portrays himself as a haggard and a low-spirited figure struggling with his internal demons. To support this, the painting depicts van Gogh’s most well-known episode of mental illness in which he sliced his own ear. The bandaged ear reveals his dark psychological state that often leaves him tragically unable to control his torrent of emotions, dangerously leading him to self-harm. This extreme act of self harm also forewarns his later suicide in which he lethally shoots himself (guardian). This highlights the dangers of how mentally ill individuals are sometimes compelled to serious violence on themselves due to being tormented by dark thoughts. Moreover, his lack of facial expression is significant.

Van Gogh’s expression is still and calm which suggests feelings of a mysterious inner pain. He is seen dwelling on the aftermath of his self-inflicted trauma where he sliced his left ear. His tortured, distant, and introspective gaze along with his lack of facial expression also exude sadness, and a sense of despair. This sense of dwelling and sadness one can sense from this painting could mean that he is aware of how his mental illness changed his personality. Moreover, the fact that van Gogh has chosen to paint himself wearing a fluffy hat, and a thick overcoat inside his home symbolizes the coldness and emptiness he feels inside himself. This is also supported by how he painted himself as pale and worn out. This lack of feelings of warmth and permanence is how depressed individuals often describe how they feel. Overall, it is evident that the painting portrays van Gogh’s vulnerability and shows the audience how his struggle with his tragic instability led him to the self-harm that is seen in this portrait. However, this portrait does not only depict his affliction but also his sense of liberation by his insanity that usually follows with creativity and an artistic inspiration.

There are features within this painting which suggest that for van Gogh, painting is his way of staying sane. For example, van Gogh has chosen to include the Japanese print which hangs on the wall in his self-portrait to emphasize his passion and inspiration for art. Furthermore, there is a blank white canvas in the back. This suggests that he is keen to continue painting and indicates his hopes to produce more work. It highlights how he bravely defies his illness and instead uses it to fuel him to use his talent which ultimately led him to create some of the most famous art in history (guardian). On top of that, his use of bright, vivid and warm colours instead of darkness supports the idea that painting is his attempt at self-therapy and a temporary escape from suffering. With each painting, van Gogh is desperately trying to be well and each painting is another attempt to rid himself of the anguish and torment swirling in his head and to replace it with art and talent.

In conclusion, Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear may be regarded as evidence of van Gogh’s attempts to deal with his mental disorder. It depicts this cycle in which the artist suffers from recurring angst and depression followed by attempts to create art, only to crash into depression again before getting back up and making another attempt by forgetting the past and starting a new canvas. His mental illness was an impediment to his work and often deterred him away from his art and talent; however, it also gave him creative inspiration after every period of inactivity as a way to stay sane and express his feelings. Ultimately, this cycle ends when the severity of his mental illness pushes him towards ending his own life.

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Critical Analysis of “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” by Vincent Van Gogh. (2020, April 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
“Critical Analysis of “Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear” by Vincent Van Gogh.” GradesFixer, 12 Apr. 2020,
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