In Paris Vincent began to prepare himself for a career as a portrait painter, hoping that commissions for portraits would solve the problem of his financial dependency. He had decided on this plan of action when it had become clear to him, in Antwerp, that the art trade was in the midst of a severe slump. In contrast, portrait photographers were doing very well; however in Vincent's eyes their works were lifeless. "But painted portraits", he said, "have a life of their own that springs from the very soul of a the painter, and which no machine can capture". (Letter 439)

Vincent was not always able to pay for professional models, however, and he would sometimes ask aquaintances to sit for him, so that he might acquire more practice in the art of portraiture. The simplets way was, however, to use himself as a model. and Vincent had frequent recourse to this exercise during his Paris period, without being motivated by any deep-seated urge towards introspection. Vincent's Paris self-portraits serve as a useful record of his painterly experiments.