Research point – Artists’ self-portraits

In this lesson, I am going to learn about some artists’ self-portraits like well-known ones from Rembrandt, Van Gogh and others.

Why the artists do self-portraits?

There is a thing that the modern people added a new word to the dictionary which is “Selfie”. People do selfies that they want to show their features like they love themselves or to show their outstanding features. Maybe reasons are from primary narcissism.

The artists started drawing/painting self-portraits a long time ago. As artists, they are more skilfully and thoughtful. Whether the artists are being narcissistic or doing it as a form emotional catharsis I can only speculate. I am going to study their expression today.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669)

Rembrandt has two outstanding of contributions which are Self-portrait and chiaroscuro. Rembrandt created approaching one hundred self-portraits. This is one of them done in 1659 and I got from Wikipedia.

Through his work, Rembrandt used dark brown on the background and he is wearing a dark coat. He had drawn himself sideways then his solemn face is to the audience. We can only see his face including his silver hair with strong illuminating (This light area is about one in eighth or one in a tenth of total space). His hands and his shoulders are shown with the faint light of the gloom. He used chiaroscuro to put up the main aim which is his serious face. Giving a strong sense of mystery.

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890)

Van Gogh is another artist with a substantial contribution to the self-portraits’ areas.

As always I admire Van Gogh’s Colour performance and his strokes. Either his colours or his strokes are all done with vivid impressions. This work I found out from Wikipedia.

Through this work, we can see this picture is just after he cut off his ear because the gauze bandage is wrapped around his head. There is dead calm in his face. This is true to himself and he expresses himself staring. He used the background with a lot of yellow, some red lines, and a blue door which are intense primary colours. His green coat is flowing with melodic strokes. 

Frida Kahlo (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954)

Kahlo also created plenty of self-portraits in her life. I have read her story that she was unlucky in life. This work “The Two Fridas” conveys much affection.

Through this work, Kahlo has drawn two Fridas on one canvas. These two figures are different dressing and in different situations, but they are holding hands, sharing a bench in front of a stormy sky. She painted this canvas during the time just after she was divorced from her husband. The left figure is the inconsolable Frida because of the failed marriage but the right one is happy with life with her husband and she is holding her husband’s profile.

Look at her other self-portraits, I can also see her unlucky life experience just like drama on the canvas.

How did Frida convey her life and the demonstration on the canvas?  There aren’t smiles, tears, or sadness on any face (impassivity face). Then I can see some elements like in this one: one hand is cutting off the artery which is connected to the heart; another hand is holding the profile which is also connected to the heart. This shows the contradiction of her life.

On the material, it also suggests us learn the artist Tracey Emin‘s self-portrait.

Compare to the artists above. It seems Tracey likes to show her facial expression on her works.

Image result for tracey emin self portrait

This is a quite controversial topic which I read about from the forum which is about her work., However, I think she is using different ways or elements of expression in her composition. Whichever right or not, the forms of art are many and varied so I would say her work is a distinctive style.


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