Jul 21, 2009

Painting a “Self-Portrait.



Mary Cassatt was an American portrait painter who specialised in portraits of women and children, 1878.


Adelaide Labille-Guiard, 1785, with two pupils. A "subjects-eye" view of the painter at work. It seems likely that women society portraitists did actually paint wearing fashionable clothes like this.



Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun painted several self-portraits that were hugely successful in the Paris Salons, and was influential in pioneering an "informal" fashion style at the end of the Ancien Regime. At 22, 1782.



Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, circa 1630, Royal collection Windsor. Note the pulled-up sleeve on the arm holding the brush.



Marie Bashkirtseff self-portrait, 1880 was a Russian born artist who died at twenty-five. A large number of Bashkirtseff's works were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II



Marie-Denise Villers, Young Woman Drawing, 1801, thought to be her self-portrait, and her most famous and finest painting. Originally attributed to Jacques-Louis David



Angelica Kauffmann, self-portrait, 1780-1785, a successful painter in her time, she was a great friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds.


Judith Leyster, a painter of genre subjects, who surely did not normally dress like this to paint. NGA, 1630.


Caterina van Hemessen, 1548, perhaps the oldest self-portrait of a female oil-painter, though much earlier examples of manuscript painters exist.



Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532 - 1625) of Cremona served as court painter to the Queen of Spain, and painted several self-portaits and many images of her family. c.1556


What exactly is a “self-portrait?” and why paint one? When an artist takes on the task of painting a self-portrait he is painting a representation of himself. Self-portraits have been painted since the earliest times, however we didn’t see artists depicting themselves as either the main subject or as important character in their work until the Early Renaissance in the mid 1400’s
As mirrors became cheaper and better and
the advent of the panel portrait became popular, many painters sculptors and printmakers started trying some form of self-portraiture.
The earliest known panel self-portrait was Jan van Eyck of 1433. He belonged to the social group that had begun to commission portraits, already more common among wealthy.
The genre was honored but did it become truly popular until the Renaissance due to the increased wealth and interest in the individual as a subject

A self-portrait actually can be a portrait of the artist, or it could be a group portrait or a larger work.
Many paintings included the artist themselves with other depictions of figures in religious or other types of composition not projected to portray the actual persons as themselves.
Often you can find the artist faces in a crowd, often at the corner of the work. This giving the painting a double purpose as portrait and a historical painting. Rubens, Rembrandt, Jan van Eyck and Diego Velázquez were well known for this.

Women artists were famous producers of self-portraits. What is interesting is that almost all major women painters have left an example of a self-portrait. There was discrimination when it came to women artists, they were not allowed to train in drawing the nude, which made it complicated for them to paint large figure compositions, and portraiture was a common subject matter. What is interesting is that they usually showed themselves in the act of painting, or at least holding a brush and palette in very fancy clothes. We have to wonder if they really wore those, or was it just for the self-portrait. Conceivably the oldest self-portrait of a female oil-painter was Caterina van Hemessen of 1548
Court painter to the Queen of Spain Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532 - 1625) painted several self-portraits and many images of her family. c.1556
A painting titled “Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting,” circa 1630, painted by Artemisia Gentileschi is now in the Royal collection of Windsor. Notice the pulled-up sleeve on the arm holding the brush.
A painter of genre subjects, Judith Leyster,1630 definitely did not typically dress to paint like it shows in the photos.
Angelica Kauffmann, self-portrait, 1780-1785, a successful painter in her time, she was a great friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Adelaide Labille-Guiard, 1785, with two pupils. A "subjects-eye" view of the painter at work. It seems likely that women society portraitists did actually paint wearing fashionable clothes like this, it is hard to imagine!
At 22 in 1782 Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun painted several self-portraits that were hugely successful in the Paris Salons, and was influential in pioneering an "informal" fashion style at the end of the Ancien Regime. She painted a total of 37 self-portraits copying many from earlier ones she had painted and sold.

Marie-Denise Villers, Young Woman Drawing, 1801, thought to be her self-portrait, and her most famous and finest painting. Originally attributed to Jacques-Louis David.
In1878, Mary Cassatt was an American portrait painter who specialized in portraits of women and children,
Marie Bashkirtseff self-portrait, 1880 was a Russian born artist who died at twenty-five. A large number of Bashkirtseff's works were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II
So now we come to the “why” do artists want to paint a self-portrait. Myself, I have never had the urge, but would love to have someone else paint me, but not me!
Maybe I see it as a very narcissistic endeavor. But maybe there are other reasons. In those early days when there were no cameras that was the only way to have a picture of themselves, that certainly could be the reason they felt a need to paint themselves. Maybe they wanted to have a record of what they looked like for prosperity. Putting themselves in a large picture with lots of people is very interesting, it is sort of like Alfred Hitchcock showing up at the beginning of each of his movies.
I guess I can’t answer the “why’ part of the question but who cares, it is still interesting to see these self portraits and wonder if that was really how they looked or did they fudge a little and glamorize themselves a bit???
Sharon Teal-Coray

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