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. Did anyone mention Rembrandt? Perhaps the most enigmatic self-portrait of all time (unless you count the Mona Lisa who was supposedly da Vinci). Read about Rembrandt’s life and look at his self-portraits. If you are really interested in Rembrandt, there is a great book by Catholic writer Henri Nouwen, who spent two days in the Hermitage contemplating Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son. A fascinating read.

  2. edward jamieson says:

    i tried a self-portrait once & was not sure of the end result. i can look at or objectify others much easier than my own image. i’m never sure what i really look like. photos of me always surprise me. painting others is much nicer.

    • David Leeds says:

      I always felt the same way about photos of me. However, I found that doing a lot of self portraits gave me a much better sense of what i looked like, even though they were very expressionistic.

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