A painting of Vincent Van Gogh with a bandaged ear is probably as well known and widely recognized as his “Starry Night”. Artists’ self-portraits often evoke instant recognition and are as famous as their other paintings. Most self-portraits are the result of an artist’s self-exploration and a deeper understanding of himself.
From Rembrandt, Albrecht Dürer, Andy Warhol to Amrita Sher-Gil, the artists’ self-portraits have offered insight into how they perceive and choose to represent themselves. Frida Kahlo, who painted herself often, said: “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.
She created 55 self-portraits that gave us a glimpse into her life and the tribulations she faced. Her portrayal of herself was also a way to express and describe the physical and emotional distress and trauma she was going through. “Self-Portrait with Necklace of Thorns and Hummingbird” and “Two Fridas” are two well-known works of her, which have several motifs that capture her suffering. The latter denotes a spectrum of turbulent emotions that she went through when her husband Diego Rivera asked her for a divorce.
Rough and choppy
Vincent Van Gogh was another artist who created several self-portraits, perhaps 30 to 40 of them. ‘Self-Portrait’, 1889, was the last painted in months before his death. It’s moody, choppy and intense with the bluish patterns of “The Starry Night” enveloping him and his background in a choppy, swirling energy field. It is also believed that Van Gogh often painted himself because he could not afford to hire a babysitter.
Most of his portraits offer a glimpse into his mental state – ranging from an intense restlessness to a calmer acceptance, for example, where he paints himself in front of an easel and sees himself as an artist – a much calmer rendering.
Rembrandt was perhaps the most prolific artist when it came to self-portraits; nearly 100 works have been documented. ‘Self-Portrait’, an oil painting made in 1960, is a work that captures its unmistakable style – solemn demeanor with its characteristic use of light. The portrait of Salvador Dalí in “Soft Self-Portrait With Grilled Bacon”, 1941, is an interesting portrayal, and frankly quite “Dali-esque”. The piece of bacon, a shapeless mass that has been propped up, adorns the artist’s characteristic upturned mustache.
Closer to home, Amrita Sher-Gil painted a series of self-portraits during her short life; one of them, created in 1930, captures her in a lively and lively mood, a rare representation of her warm and lively self.
The artists’ self-documentation in the form of their portraits provides a lot of information about them, and their detailed reading in terms of style, symbols, patterns, props, colors and background provides valuable clues. These also offer insight into how they see themselves; for example, Durer’s “Self-Portrait at the Age of Twenty-Eight” which resembles the figure of Christ – historians believe he wanted to convey that his gifts were given to him by God.
The author is an art consultant, curator and writer based in Bangalore. She blogs at Art Scene India and can be contacted at [email protected]
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