In November of the year 1885 Van Gogh leaves the Netherlands. After a brief stay in Antwerp he goes to Paris, which at the time is the centre of European art. There he paints his first self-portraits. During his stay in the French capital (until February 1888) he produces around 25. There is no other period in his career in which he makes so many portraits. One of the explanations for this large number is that Van Gogh lacked the money to pay for models.
The first self-portraits are characterized by a dark, realistic painting style. By painting in a traditional manner Van Gogh hopes to attract commissions for portraits and thereby earn some money. After abandoning this hope he begins trying out increasingly radical experiments in his self-portraits. He practises with colour, form and light, and varies his brushstrokes. This portrait is rather subdued as far as use of colour is concerned. Soft blue and green tints dominate the work. The rapid paint strokes used to fill in the background in particular give the work a lively, dynamic quality.
For Van Gogh it's not interesting to make portraits that are photographic reproductions of the person being depicted. He sees the portrait as a means of also showing the person's character and frame of mind. This self-portrait shows a calm Vincent van Gogh, although a certain anxiety can also be read in the nervous glance in his eyes.