Among his collection of works, Van Gogh created close to 50 known portrait paintings. While some unfortunately have been lost, there are many others that hang on the walls of museums showing the faces of people who once knew the artist. Some of the most popular portraits that Van Gogh painted are well known such as the Portrait of Dr. Gachet and the Portrait of Joseph Roulin. While these fetched the two highest prices for Van Gogh paintings sold at auction, there are many other Van Gogh portraits which are not as famous.
Dependent on his brother Theo for financial support, Van Gogh thought of portrait painting as a potential opportunity to make a living as an artist. For Van Gogh, art supplies were expensive, and he was often desperate for his brother to send him the just the money he needed to survive. In a letter to his brother Theo from December of 1885, Vincent discussed painting portraits and how it could be a way for him to advance when writing, “I imagine portrait painting is the way to earn the means for greater things.”
Although some of his early portraits are lesser known, they were an important part of his development as an artist. Later in December of 1885 Van Gogh wrote again to his brother Theo stating, “Today I have painted another head of a model, whom I could not pay however; but having the opportunity, I profited by it.”
View a video compilation of Van Gogh’s portraits below: