Self portraiture has long been a vigorous genre in the history of art. It drew me in early on, in fact, I wrote my senior thesis in college on “Cezanne’s Self Portraits.” For me, the self portrait often offers the purest crystalization of a painter’s style. When one does frequent self portraits, as I have done, you learn the structure of your face so well that you become very unselfconscious and free in the execution. You know how to capture the image, so you can really focus on interpretation and execution or style. I think it is much easier to “objectify” an image you know so well. It may seem counter- intuitive, and that one would be more uptight at the idea of portraying yourself, but I think the opposite is true. In any case, here are some of my very favorites. There are so many great ones, that this is a very limited sampling. Also, I didn’t include works that were not explicitly self portraits. In the early Renaissance and before, artists would often include a rendition of themselves in a larger group in historical or mythological pieces.
Durer, left, was the first prolific self portraitist. Hopper, center, and Fillipo Lippi, right,
are far apart in time, but not in feeling.
Manet, Velasquez, and Raphael. Three of the greatest painters who ever lived, and three ultimate masters of the use of black. All three of these knock me out. I think the Velasquez is one of the great paintings ever painted. Period.
Titian, Degas, and Van Dyke. Penultimate stylists in their times, they each vibrate with an incredible inner force.
Chardin, Rembrandt (one of the most prolific self portraitists of all time) and Renoir.
What can you say? Astounding pieces!
Cezanne (another prolific self portrait painter), Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh (also
a prolific self portraitist.) It doesn’t get any better.
Dali ( at age 17), Eugene Delacroix, and Max Beckman. Three “men of the world” in their
own times. Passion and intellect, interwoven.
I hope you’ll agree that these self portraits are extraordinary works of art. For me, they are so visually stunning and psychologically penetrating, that they literally take my breath away. I had started to do a post on my favorite portraits, but realized that so many were actually self portraits, I decided to explore these first. I will soon follow up with regular portraits, and then portraits of artists painting other artists.