Posted by: glue | June 16, 2011



Antonio Damasio’s inquiry into the human capacity to recognize one’s own being in features of the external world is a scientific (neuroaesthetics) account of a fundamental principle of art.  One prominent example is Van Gogh’s self-portrait as chair.

In 1888 Vincent van Gogh painted Van Gogh’s Chair as one of two unusual portraits depicting himself and his friend Paul Gauguin. For his own portrait, van Gogh used one of the twelve simple chairs he had purchased when he furnished the Yellow House. His pipe and a pouch of tobacco on the rush seat and the box of onions that bears his name serve as rustic attributes that contrast to the more elegant items he chose to represent Paul Gauguin. The predominant hue in Van Gogh’s Chair is yellow, which van Gogh now regarded as his signature color.

Van Gogh knew English as well as French, which adds a possible motivation to a legitimate puncept in any case:  “chair” is “flesh” in French, opening a conductive link with Merleau-Ponty’s image ontology.  The compositional device involves anthropomorphism (assigning human qualities to an object in this case).  The full effect is better appreciated when “Gauguin as chair” is included for comparison.

Gauguin as Chair



  1. Very interesting! It is also known that Cezanne once commented on one of Van Gogh’s paintings of shoes saying that he could see Van Gogh himself incarnate in the shoes.

  2. Right: and that painting of shoes is the one featured in the debate between Heidegger and Derrida, which is a good excuse to follow Van Gogh as a line of flight.

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