The glittering world of fashion played a dominant role in Paris in the late nineteenth century. Through his friends, Lautrec was introduced to the milliners of the Rue de la Paix. They wanted to distract him from alcohol, but Lautrec was not drawn to the artificial world of fashion and the affected grace of the mannequins. Through his friend Adolphe Albert he was introduced to Renée Vert, who ran a hat shop, and it was only as a favour to her that he painted a few pictures set in the millinery milieu. This portrait shows Louise Blouet, one of her employees.
Catalogue numbers: F 528, JH 1780.
Restricted to motifs selected from within the asylum, van Gogh began a series of portraits. He did six of them at Saint-Rémy, and they stand out as isolated yet imposing achievements of the art of portrait painting. Three of the six (F 626, 528, 627) are self-portrait. The other portraits are the Portrait of Trabuc (F 629), Portrait of a Patient (F 703), the Portrait of a Young Peasant (F 531).
The present self-portrait is the most distorted, cruel and merciless of them all. Van Gogh looks worn and emaciated, it is a face like the potato faces of Dutch peasants, though one wholly lacking in rustic naivety.