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.

urer, 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!

ezanne (another prolific self portrait painter), Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh (also
a prolific self portraitist.) It doesn’t get any better.

ali ( at age 17),  Eugene Delacroix, and Max Beckman. Three “men of the world” in their
own times. Passion and intellect, interwoven.

Diego Rivera, Frieda Kahlo, and Chuck Close. Clearly on the same page.

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.

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37 Comments on "SELF PORTRAITS"

  1. metscan says:

    Thank you for this collection, FK is probably the only one I have seen before.
    But, but.. where is our Helene Schjerfbeck?
    Over the years, she painted lots of self portraits, the last ones expressing her fragility in a most unique way.

  2. Syl Aldred says:

    All men …where are the female self portraits?

    • David Leeds says:

      Did you miss the great Frida Kahlo? These are all pictures I know well, and as I mentioned there are so many I could have put. You are right though, Frida was the only woman who came immediately to mind.

    • Kata Joos says:

      I the Art History -Since a Gothic or Renessance etc . We cannot see many woman painters , music composers , or conducors , designers or famous writers .
      Most well known artists are Men or some woman painters became famous , because of her partner / men / connections in business .
      Tell me one woman name’s , like knownas very well – Leonardo , or Picasso ?
      Today , one woman painter , everyone knows in these World ?
      They are all movie stars or politicans ….

    • kathy says:

      So hard to think of any women who painted self portraits that aren’t more contemporary. The only one I can think of is Artemisia Gentileschi. On another note, I love Joni Mitchell’s self portraits. Her music is so outstanding that her talent as an artist is often overlooked.

  3. David, I love this post. To see all these brilliant self-portraits together has such power. It made me realize how important this convention was and is to so many artists. And it also made me realize how much I love portraits. Most of the art I collect is portrait work, either photography or paintings and drawings. And these self-portraits that you featured are so interesting for their psychological depth as well as their artistic genius. Thank you for shedding light on this type of art work that we see in every museum but often do not ever stop to really think about.

    • David Leeds says:

      It’s especially interesting to look at he work of those who painted many self portraits throughout their careers. You can often see them working out stylistic developments on the image of themselves. It’s fascinating to see the timing and frequency in terms of other work they are doing as well.

  4. i love this new post, i see so much beauty in this world, yet to me the many expressions of the human soul showing on their face is the most beautiful of them all

  5. Barbara says:

    Thank you for sharing these self-portraits. After seeing them I’m not sure if I’m baffled or – I don’t know – elated? I love that feeling though, makes me want to surpass my current abilities and work more on my painting.

    But I’m seriously quite knocked off, that Dali could paint so emotionally at the age of 17.

  6. kathy says:

    I think a number of people are under the impression that painter’s self portraits are somehow a narcissistic or an activity of self absorption. As a painter myself, and one who did try to do a self portrait, which I’m not all that happy with – I can say without a doubt, I have never learned more about “seeing” than when I painted myself. I really think it’s an exercise that all artists should do. This post has made me consider doing another – scary thought!

  7. Kib Bramhall says:


    This is an excellent post and could be the foundation for a book.

    Thank you.


    • David Leeds says:

      Thanks Kib. This post, once I started it, came very naturally to me because of all the work I had done on Cezanne’s self portraits. The material certainly lends itself to expansion-and, god, what incredible paintings so many of them are. Have you done self portraits? I’m curious to know your experience with the genre, being the wonderful painter you are.

    • kathy says:

      Good question – have you ever done a self portrait Kib? Would love to see it if you did.

  8. Ida says:

    David could there be any relationship between a self-portrait facing to the left,and one facing to the right eg is it easier for a R handed artist to paint himself while facing right,or more awkward to the left, or do they just choose their best side? Do we know how many great artists were left-handed?

    Kathy I would love to see your self portrait please. Ida

  9. Pam Brown says:

    Since childhood I have drawn portraits so when I started to read the history of the artists I was drawn of course to the portrait artists…so I am probably more aware of the self portraits than most and have seen most of what you posted. I am always fascinated by anyone else being fascinated by portraiture and self portraiture. Self portraits to me always seemed like a natural progression… when there is no one else to draw you draw yourself…its great practice… and since you have to look into a mirror to do it the portrait always comes out just a bit off from how others see you. Thank you so much David for sharing your fascination of the self portraits!

  10. Marisa says:

    Seeing all the paintings together has a certain effect that is quite special. I was just reading Lucian Freud’s obituary and they quoted him talking about how all paintings are self portraits in a way, because as an artist you paint what you know and the work is ultimately always about you. I think Freud’s self portraits were BY FAR his best work. I like “Reflection with two children” from 1962 which is a classic alpha male self obsession piece, but my favorite is “Reflection” from 2002 where he shows himself as a vulnerable old man. RIP Lucian Freud.
    Great to be back on Husk of Meaning! Love the last few posts.

    • David Leeds says:

      Good to have you back, and around in general! It was a real oversight to not include one of his self portraits. But as I keep saying, there are so many extraordinary ones, it’s just impossible to get anything but a small personalized glimpse. I think i will definitely do a self portrait 2 post. Just too much overwhelming material.

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard