mirrors in oil : self portraits by the great masters : part 1

the following is a selection of self-portraits drawn by the grand masters of oil painting. i hope you enjoy their singular truth!
van gogh. (1853-1890)
i found this portrait to be his most crisp. and engaging. as if hes looking through me as i look through him.
the impulsive and tempestuous frida khalo (1907-1954) . “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” She also stated, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.” rock on!
paul cezanne (1839-1906) is considered to be the bridge between modern impressionism and cubism. which face is captured here? that of the financial priviledged painter of most his years or the isolated divorcee of his later ones?
albrecht durer. (1471- 1528) was a German painter, printmaker, engraver, mathematician, and theorist who was reknowned by his 20s. is that whimsy i detect in the face of the man considered to be the master of the Northern renaissance? an interesting looking fellow indeed.
lucien freud. (1922-2011) wiki says it best: His works are noted for their psychological penetration, and for their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.” therefore i am drawn to this selfportrait, done in 1985, because of its examination between artist and artist and model and model. strange….
christian seybold. 1695-1768. i have chosen to include his self portrait as an older man. his eyes capture something for me. their opacity is incredible. and timeless. not the fur, however. thats a little old school. nonetheless this work is proof of his position as a master portrait painter of all time.
giorgio de chirico.(1888-1978) a greek born italian, metaphysicist and surrealist, painter. “De Chirico’s later paintings never received the same critical praise as did those from his metaphysical period (1909-1919)”. He resented this, as he thought his later work was better and more mature. so do i. this self portrait is from c. 1925.
edward hopper (1882-1967). a prominent american realist painter and printmaker. Always reluctant to discuss himself and his art, Hopper simply summed up his art by stating, “The whole answer is there on the canvas.” interestingly enough he worked on this painting from 1925-1930. how do you feel the artists work was influenced by the lapse five years during its creation?
gustave courbet (1819-1877). this self portrait is entitled “the desperate man”. coubet was a realist genius in 19th century france. from the masters mouth: ” I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: ‘He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.’ can you sense his unflinching commitment to expressing his artistic freedom in this piece?
gauguin. (1848-1903). paul entered the artistic flock later than most.and eventually abandoned his family, went to tahiti and got his tropical on, and his pastoral, colorful, primitivist and cloissonist on in his remarkeable paintings. his talent was recognized after he died. a talent that can be seen here in this interesting portrait.
delaney (1901-1979) found his art calling as a part of the new york harlem renaissance painting depictions of minority hardships in america. he was extremely isolated and lived as a closeted homosexual during this time. but, in ’52 delaney moved to Paris and experienced personal and artistic freedom the city offered. sadly the drink caught up with him by the early 60s and by the early 70s delaney was committed to an institution due to his deteriorated mental state. which of delaney’s emotions do you feel are captured here?

truly great painted self portraits are feats of artistic magic. since the subject and creator are the same the artist’s view into the subjects soul is as clear as humanly possible. All of the subject’s varying emotions, changing sentiments, conflicting opinions, and changes in appearance are completely known and therefore, the painter faces the challenge of choosing which of the millions of aspects of himself* to include and which to dismiss. sure, there is a hint of selective editing in this process. but there is also a clairvoyance, or final truth, in “reflective” portraiture that cannot be found an any other type of portrait art.

extra credit: can we seperate the artist from his self portrait?

 if we do not know the artists biography can we know the painting?

*and herself. frida as an example.

love odie and odie mama.

more portraits to come this week. stay tuned….

20 thoughts on “mirrors in oil : self portraits by the great masters : part 1

  1. I’ve always found self-portraits intriguing because it gives you a window into what the artist thinks of himself especially what they (de)emphasize (and perhaps the reason why super private Hopper took 5 years to “describe” himself?). Interesting that iconoclastic Courbet’s portrait is the most spontaneous looking/non-classical pose, no? Thanks for the fascinating post :)

    • Hi Cam,
      Thank you for visiting and sharing such insightful commentary. I agree with your hopper observation. Also, could courbet have drawn an accurate self portrait at that time in his life and have it look any other way? odie says no. I will agree with him. :) one of the more exciting self portraits in human history…

  2. That portrait of Van Gogh is very interesting as his body is blending into the colors and textures of the background but his head is clearly standing out on top of it all. I’ve been wanting to try out copying a painting of people, maybe this one… :)

    • hi appleg.
      So glad you had a chance to check out one of our fave posts. We love Van gogh too, esp his self portraits.
      We really must do a part two in oils – we’ll let you know when we do.
      O and OM.

  3. Odie mama (& Odie, too)….

    I have seen the original of the Van Gogh you included, in an exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, many years ago. It is an AMAZING painting! If you stand about 10 feet away from it, it appears to be a normal painting, very good, but, nothing special except the technique. But, if you back up, one step, to about 12-13 feet away, it literally comes alive! it no longer seems a painting, but, a small window, through which Van Gogh stares into your eyes with electric intensity; you’d swear it moved, and was a live face looking at you…. Incredible piece of art….



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