Van Gogh painted it in January 1889, a week after leaving hospital. He had received treatment there after cutting off most of his left ear (shown here as the bandaged right ear because he painted himself in a mirror). This self-mutilation was a desperate act committed a few weeks earlier, following a heated argument with his fellow painter Paul Gauguin.
Van Gogh's fur cap secures his thick bandage and wards off the winter cold. Created in harsh conditions, this self-portrait demonstrates Van Gogh's determination to continue painting, reinforced by the objects behind him: a canvas on an easel and a Japanese print, an important source of inspiration. Above all, it is Van Gogh's brushwork and powerful handling of colour that declare his renewed ambition as a painter.