Astonishing and gripping: Van Gogh’s Self Portraits at the Courtauld reviewed

In September 1889, Vincent van Gogh sent his brother Theo a new self-portrait from the mental hospital at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. ‘You must look at it for some time,’ he instructed, then ‘you’ll see, I hope, that my physiognomy has grown much calmer, although the gaze may be vaguer than before, so it appears to me.’ Vincent was severely ill and was in the hospital to recover from his affliction, the nature of which remains controversial. Yet he carried on creating marvellous pictures, including several of himself. One of the questions raised by Van Gogh. Self-Portraits, the wonderful exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, is simple but fundamental: why? We take it as