Why are there no pictures of Vincent Van Gogh?

To understand why real-life pictures of the great artist Vincent Van Gogh cannot be found, it is necessary to dive deep into his passions, personality, creativity and his life. As such, while you may find multiple images of his self-portraits present everywhere in the world, from the internet to museums, people have rarely found a digitized image of him considering that photography was an established technology by then. 

Why are there no pictures of Vincent Van Gogh?

Why are there no pictures of Vincent Van Gogh?

It might come as a jarring revelation to artists all around the world that Vincent van Gogh had a very difficult personality and some strong opinions. One of these is that he disliked the idea of photographs being taken of him, as he felt that they did not capture the essence and beauty of ‘life’. 

His Early Life

Born in 1853, Vincent William Van Gogh belonged to an upper-middle-class family in the region of Netherlands. During his school days, he did not show much inclination toward the creative arts and was known as a boy who was sensitive and preferred being alone. His first venture into the field of arts was at the age of 16 when he started working as an art dealer in an international firm. 

After working there for about six years and going through a lot of psychological issues and his longing interest in his faith as a Christian, he discovered a deep interest in art as it provided him with a doorway to understand his own spirituality with religion and the world. 

The perception of photographs for ordinary people 

Why do we as a society crave photographs of famous people and celebrities? 

Photographs allow one to connect to people, the past and experiences. Looking through the lens of this ‘tortured artist’ gives many artists a sense of identity, a way to channel their art and to understand the artist himself. A photograph has the power to enable one to see what lies behind the mesmerizing art. 

For amateur artists, hoping to make their place and find their way into this creative field, self-portraits of Van Gogh would help them to see their own perceptions of him as most visuals have the power to do. 

His opinions on photography

  • He was once noted telling his sister that photographs frightened him 
  • While we know that he was against his photo being taken, he also did not appreciate people he knew and loved being photographed
  • He started his journey of painting his self-portraits in 1886 because he felt that this would be a more likeable preservation of himself 
  • His personality of being shy, preferring seclusion with nature over people would also allude to the fact that he did not like having pictures taken 

Alternative Understanding of Why His Pictures Do Not Exist

Knowing that all of his paintings, some that have changed the course of history like ‘Starry Starry Night’, ‘Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers’ and ‘Almond Blossoms’ were published only after his death shows that he was not popular or even well-known as an artist during his lifetime. In recent times, in one way or another pictures of famous people, doing good in the world can always be found somewhere. However, if no one had even known of who Vincent Van Gogh was, while he lived, people must not have even requested that his picture be taken. 

The One Picture That Exists

The only known photograph of Van Gogh was taken at the age of 19 in the year 1873. This was 10 years before he started painting, after which there are no pictures of him present for the public domain. 

Technique of Painting

He was an artist who used the ‘Impasto technique’ of applying the paints directly to the canvas and using his own fingers to mix the paints which lead to some of his most renowned pieces. The thick paints that he utilized made his brushstrokes more visible and therefore it gave his pictures more of a dense look. He started painting self-portraits because he wanted to have good practice in painting other people.

When one looks to see the visuals that are present in his self-portrait painting, one will notice that he paints himself as a very restrained and serious person, which is something that is associated with his personality as well. In total, Vincent Van Gogh created around 36 self-portraits of himself, in the mere span of 10 years. According to the National Gallery of Art, there is perhaps only one other artist to have these many self-portraits in their name. 


While photographs of Vincent Van Gogh might never find their way into a simple Google search, the images of his self-portraits drawn by him and other artists are deeply embedded in everyone’s minds and hearts. Perhaps that is the legacy he left behind- that his paintings could say more about him than any photograph could ever capture. 

Why are there no pictures of Vincent Van Gogh?

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