Research point: Self portraits

I was asked to look at some self portraits of historical and contemporary artists. I compiled a list of work that resonated with me, Im sure I could have spent hours doing this and still found more to feature but these were the highlights.


Whenever I think of self portraits I always think of Rembrant. I think its because they have a very lifelike quality, the lighting is dim with only the face illuminated, the expression quite stern or somber looking in some ways. He was quite prolific with his self portraits, I counted 12 from his early twenties to the year he died at the age of 63.

Van Goth

This is a well known self portrait as infamous as the story behind it, I love the textures, and detail given how bold the marks are. The fur of his hat looks soft and thick, the skin tones of the face when viewed closely and in isolation do not seem typical of what you would expect to find in a face, but the hues of the face doesn’t seem to be off or exaggerated at all. Green orange and yellow with warm pink and browns all seem to mix inside the eye to create a portrait of a troubled man with some self loathing issues.


I’ve included Picasso purely because his style and the way it changes is very interesting to me, a sense of style is something I always try for. The author Neil Gaiman said, and I may paraphrase slightly that “a persons style is the repetition of the mistakes and choices they cant help but make.” This I found interesting, even in my own drawing I can see an inherent style, but the work below is clearly something that had to be at least initially forced, a conscious effort to create something unique and new. Maybe the mistakes in our art sometimes force the style. Picasso clearly had a realistic style in his youth, and maybe the flaw in his art, to him at least was that he didn’t want realism, and set about a new approach.

Lucian Freud

This portrait was created using a mirror on the ground, I love the distorted perspective, misshapen head and a sense of grotesque. the colour pallete is dull and the expression is quite uncomfortable for the viewer to look at for too long. The addition of the children, his own children in fact seems to be outside of the portrait, maybe Freud would rather show us his children, not any to show they are a part of him and given awkward expression to divert the attention away from him.

David Hockney

This mixed media/collage is really lovely, it has a sense of realism through its sense of scale and proportion, the David Hockney trade mark glasses give a sense of who this is, he seems to be portraying himself as quite young here. The colours are bright and what you would expect from Hockney.

Jenny Saville

A very realistic portrait embellished with some interesting marks and shapes, certainly not concerning itself with vanity, it looks almost like she is in discomfort, I suspect she is laying on her back, the soft areas of her face under the influence of gravity. Again some unexpected colours in the portrait. but they don’t seem to be out of place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *