We know that Vincent didn’t like portrait photography, and this also explains why there are so few photographs of him. Vincent thought that photographs lacked life, and much preferred painted portraits.
In his work, he was primarily concerned with portraying the character of the subject. When Vincent was young, photography was still complicated and expensive. The collodion process is said to have been invented in 1851, 2 years before Vincent was born.
The intriguing phenomenon of photography became a point of comparison for artists, including Van Gogh. Although he started off considering photography as being rather ‘mechanical’.
In September 1888, Van Gogh, living in the south of France, received from his sister Wilhelmina, still in the Netherlands, a photograph of their mother. In a letter to Theo, Vincent wrote: “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colourless photograph and am trying to do one in a harmony of colour, as I see her in my memory.” (Letter 546)
In another letter Vincent said: “I am working on a portrait of Mother, because the black-and-white photograph annoys me so. Ah, what portraits could be made from nature with photography and painting! I always hope that we are still to have a great revolution in portraiture” (Letter 548)