"The original selfie?": Cardiff borrows Van Gogh self-portrait for selfie show

Theguardian_ It is possible the artist may not have wholly approved of one of his searching, intense self-portraits being likened to an image grabbed on a mobile phone.

But a Van Gogh oil painting has been unveiled as the centrepiece of an exhibition in Cardiff that poses the question: “Is a self-portrait the original selfie?”

The Van Gogh painting Portrait of the Artist (1887) has arrived at the National Museum Cardiff, in an exchange with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which has borrowed a Renoir from the Welsh collection.

The portrait has been hung alongside a Rembrandt, a Francis Bacon and self-portraits by Welsh artists, in a show called Drych ar yr Hunlun/Art of the Selfie, and is expected to attract crowds of fans who will be allowed to take their own selfies alongside it.

Van Gogh may not have agreed with the show’s thesis, once writing: “I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer.”

Kath Davies, the director of collections and research at Amgueddfa Cymru (Museum Wales), said: “Self-portraits and selfies are different things, but they do have something in common – both are used to show who you are as a person. We would like to encourage visitors to feel inspired by the exhibition and take their own self-portraits in all kinds of creative ways.” She also said calling the show Art of the Selfie could draw in a younger audience.

Davies described how the museum was approached by the Musée d’Orsay wanting to borrow one of its most beloved paintings, La Parisienne, also known as The Blue Lady, by Renoir.

La Parisienne has been in the Welsh collection since 1952 when it was bequeathed by the Welsh patron of the arts and impressionist collector Gwendoline Davies.

The museum was a little reluctant at first. “People travel for miles to see her and get upset when she is not in the museum,” said Davies. “She has an emotional connection for so many people.”

The Musée d’Orsay was planning a show called Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism. “The Blue Lady was painted in 1874 so it just made sense we should allow her to go back to her birthplace, go on her holidays with old friends.

“But she was going to leave a gap. So we suggested: if you’re taking one of our iconic works,, could you reciprocate and send something that’s really meaningful, one of your star objects.”

Davies said such swaps are not that common but one of the curators in Paris had spent time in the south-west Wales town of Lampeter and helped smooth the way. It was agreed that a Van Gogh would be sent in exchange for the Renoir.

At first the idea was to put him in the space left by the Blue Lady. “But Van Gogh is such a superstar, we thought it would be silly not to do something more creative, more playful,” said Davies.

Three living Welsh artists also find themselves on show alongside Van Gogh. There is a photograph of and by Bedwyr Williams, dressed in the robes of a Welsh bard sporting a flowing white beard, which goes under the playful title Bard Attitude.

Also on display is a textile piece by Anya Paintsil, who drew on her Welsh-Ghanaian heritage to create an image of herself as Blodeuwedd, a mythological woman made of out flowers. In addition, there is a self-portrait of the artist Shani Rhys James giving the viewer a hard stare.

The loan agreement closes the Welsh government’s year of Wales in France,which has created ties between the two countries in trade, culture and sport. Dawn Bowden, the deputy minister for culture and sport, said the swap was “a fitting way” to close our year.