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Self-portrait with Black Eye Patch

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Rik Wouters
Mechelen 1882 - Amsterdam 1916
(1915)
oil on canvas
102 x 85 cm
Inventory number 3297

Rik Wouters has pictured himself here in green-blue pyjamas with a checked blanket propped up behind his back, against a bright red curtain in the background. His right eye is concealed behind a patch. Wouters painted this self-portrait shortly after an operation to remove a facial cancer. The painting owes its vibrancy to the strikingly bright colours and the thin application of the paint on a white ground. Equally striking is the artist’s face: unlike the rest of the composition, it consists of different fields of colour. Whereas the Impressionists were interested mainly in colour and luminosity, and therefore applied their paints in brief touches that ignored figuration, Rik Wouters, like Cezanne before him, liked to accentuate form by means of bold fields of colour.

Vibrancy in the face of death

In 1912, Wouters first complained of nagging headaches and facial pains, early symptoms of a cancer to his cheekbone. He served in the army during the Great War and was taken prisoner by the Germans, but managed to escape and ended up in a camp in Zeist, in the Netherlands. He remained optimistic and picked up painting again. After his release in 1915, he moved into a studio in Amsterdam, where he produced a series of vibrant watercolours. Three unsuccessful operations in quick succession sapped his life away. He died in 1916 aged just thirty-three.

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