In this next painting, we see a self-portrait executed by Todd in late 1888 or early 1889. He was known at the time to be under the treatment of Dr. Glass after his breakdown in Aix, when he threatened fellow artist Georges Lazenby with a straight razor.
By this point, Todd was well into his green period, following a long early development during which he painted nothing but blue, violet, and indigo swirls, which resemble to us newly forming galaxies. Of course, at the time, Todd knew of no such thing. Several passages from Todd’s loosely assembled “diary” (itself a mishmash of papers collected over Todd’s lifetime and assembled with a single staple in the upper left corner by Dr. Glass) reveals that he was painting the dregs of his glasses of dunkel German beer, for which he had a certain proclivity and likely an addiction.
In the summer of 1888, Todd’s fellow Repressionist Georges Lazenby traveled to Aix to live with Todd in his tiny cottage. There and in the immediate vicinity – at the so-called “tilting” windmills, along the banks of the Rivière de Lait, within the great Wormwood Forest – they would create some of the world’s great art. Lazenby was at the time pioneering his patented “finger” techniques, eschewing all manufactured implements for what he described as the “primal instrument.” His dazzling work from the period shows the technique coming to full fruition, as he painted massive windmills with no sails, waterless riverbeds, and huge deforested tracts of land – all archetypal symbols for the Repressionist movement.
Todd’s work, similarly spectacular during this time, was more difficult to pin down as strictly Repressionist. His tendency to express even fewer emotional elements in his canvases have led some critics (particularly Saddlebaum and Wrenchkirk) to designate this period as Post-Repressionist or Pre-Suicidal. In any case, the most marked difference from his earlier work is in Todd’s adoption of the color green to represent all things. Most of his subjects from the time can be deciphered only from the titles he gave each canvas – truly, the pieces “Forest Prostitute” and “Lady at the River Milk” are nearly indiscernible, some believe identical, renderings. Each consists of nothing but irregular patches of many hues of green paint.
What exactly happened in the autumn of 1888 between Todd and Georges Lazenby has remained a mystery to this day. All hadn’t been well to that point – that much can gleaned from Todd’s letters to his brother and struggling financier Joe (who also struggled with depression). The underlying conflict was likely prompted by Todd’s penchant for infusing absinthe into his daily breakfast of horse oats and milk serum. On top of this dependency was added the deliberate berating Todd received from Georges Lazenby, who was the more confident painter as well as a vehement critic. At one point, an argument over who should sit in which chair turned violent – Lazenby himself purported that he had initiated the incident by calling Todd a “real jerk.” Todd’s response was to lunge at Lazenby with the razor he’d been using to peel carrots. Lazenby escaped, barely, and reported the occurrence to Dr. Glass.
Not long after, in early December of 1888, at the insistence of the doctor, who favored natural remedies of undue grandeur, Todd boarded a single-man trimaran of his own design to sail to Indonesia, where he hoped to paint “nature in its natural state.” Six weeks later, his boat was found abandoned off the coast of Argentina. It has been presumed that Todd made a tragic wrong turn and in his embarrassment to ask for directions, threw himself overboard. Amongst his writings found in the ship’s cabin – mostly on his theory of the human species as a collective “battery” as well as a vast quantity of what seems to be an early depiction of binary code – were the last of his canvases, simple watercolors depicting the night sky, and this self-portrait, painted entirely in shades of black.