Paintings of the Week: Self Portraits

I never recognise myself in photographs; the tall, muscular, heroic man that I know myself to be always get strangely reduced into being a short tubby Welsh bloke.  This just proves that THE CAMERA ALWAYS LIES.

But self portraits by artists always intrigue me. It’s said that to paint a great portrait, you have to see into the soul of your sitter.  To paint yourself, therefore, you have to know yourself; you have to see past the facial features to the essence of the man or woman beneath.

There is (or at least was) a  fabulous juxtaposition in the National Gallery between two portaits of Rembrandt - one as a young man, one as an old man. Because of the ways the eyes look to one side, you can stand and be stared at by both men at the same time. There is no more potent visual expression of how the boy becomes the man.

Caravaggio plays a similar trick in the self portrait below, in which he is both David AND Goliath; the young man and the older man in the same painting.

Here’s a glimpse into the souls of some great artists.

Henri Matisse

Francis Bacon, 1973

Caravaggio as both David and Goliath

Artemisia Gentileschi: Self Portrait as a Lute Player

Lucian Freud

Claude Monet, 1886

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso on a bad day

Gwen John


Michelangelo - self portrait?

Tolouse Letrec

J.M.W. Turner

Rembrandt Van Rijn as a young man

Rembrandt Van Rijn in 1660

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