31. Oct. 2015 –
31. Jan. 2016
I am here!
From Rembrandt to the selfie
An exciting selection of artistic self-images, in various media spanning six centuries
to the selfie
The self-portrait occupies a core place in the history of European art. Ever since the Renaissance, and in some cases even earlier, artists have self-consciously created images of themselves. The exhibition I am here! From Rembrandt to the selfie presents an exciting selection of artistic self-images, in various media spanning six centuries, from Rembrandt to the selfie. The topic is more relevant than ever, as social media thrive on self-portraits and the continual presentation of self.
The exhibition reflects the early self-assurance of the Renaissance artist, the magnificent spectacle of the self in the Baroque, the sentimental subjectivity in Romantic self-portraiture, the unsparing view of the self in modern art, and finally the obsessive questioning of the self in the era of photography and video.
The exhibition especially reveals the shifting faces of French, British, and German art production, with the some 1oo featured works coming from three major European collections that complement each other brilliantly: Lyon’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe.
Held as part of the EU-funded project I Am Here: European Faces, the exhibition includes works by Palma Vecchio, Gustave Courbet, Anselm Feuerbach, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann, Andy Warhol, Marina Abramović, Tracey Emin. Launched in Karlsruhe, the show will later travel to Lyon and Edinburgh.
Facing the World
Self-Portraits from Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei
16 July–16 October 2016, National Galleries of Scotland Edinburgh
Facing the World: Self-Portraits from Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery will explore the intense fascination with which artists have turned their gaze upon themselves, and will offer a very rich survey of self-portraiture from the sixteenth century to the present day.
Facing the World will highlight the outstanding strengths of three great European collections, those of the Staatliche Kunsthalle, in Karlsruhe, Germany, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, in France, and the National Galleries of Scotland. It will feature an astonishing selection of over 140 works, spanning six centuries, in a wide range of media, including drawings, prints, paintings, photographs, video and social media.
Highlights will include one of Rembrandt’s most memorable self-portraits, painted at the age of 51, and stunning works by Simon Vouet, Allan Ramsay, Hyacinthe Rigaud, David Wilkie, Gustave Courbet, Edvard Munch, Paul Klee, Andy Warhol, Marina Abramovic, Douglas Gordon, Sarah Lucas and Annie Lennox. It will also bring together many superb works unfamiliar to British audiences, including self-portraits by the Italian Futurist Gino Severini, and the German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
In an age when issues of identity and questions about how we present ourselves to the world are being widely addressed this ambitious international project will prove thought-provoking and inspiring. Facing the World will also feature interactive installations which will allow visitors to make portraits of themselves, and so contribute to a vibrant composite digital self-portrait of those who have taken part.
From Rembrandt to the selfie
26 March–26 June 2016, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
The self-portrait is a genre in itself. A self-portrait conveys information, not just about the style of the epoch in which it was made, but also about the personality of the artist who made it, and his or her social and historical environment. In the digital age, a far-reaching analysis of the tradition of the self-portrait seems relevant and pressing, for the very reason that in recent years the global spread of smartphones has resulted in the emergence of a massive social phenomenon: the taking of selfies.
On show in the exhibition are more than 130 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and videos dating from between the Renaissance and the 21st century. The majority of works come from the rich collections of the three partner museums, but also included are loans from Lyon-based private collectors, the ZKM Karlsruhe, and the Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon. The exhibition questions the genre’s artistic practices, defines the typology of self-portraiture, and underscores its unique characteristics. It shows the diversity of artistic possibilities that the genre has to offer, ranging from self-portrait-as-performance, to the artist’s image ‘smuggled’ into works in another genre, to the mere allusion of self. The exhibition takes a special look at the production of self-portraits by German, Scottish, and Lyon-based artists.
The exhibition’s chapters
The exhibition is divided into five chapters (The artist’s gaze – The artist at work – The artist and family – The artist staged – The body of the artist), which explore the typology of the self-portrait and its evolution over the centuries. Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue in three languages (German, French, English).
The visitors and their self-portraits
In parallel to the exhibition, several activities have been developed that purposefully involve the audience in the project. Particularly noteworthy is the ZKM’s digital installation which encourages visitors to take their portraits before leaving the exhibition. Their snapshots are then selected through an automatic scanning process and assembled to form a huge portrait of exhibition-goers. This project also allows visitors to participate in the exhibition long after their visit, by getting involved online and via social Networks.
Me, myself and I
Designed specifically for school groups aged 11 and up, this guide is on offer during the exhibition’s entire run. It was developed in cooperation with the ZKM and includes a visit to the art-appreciation room, where works produced in workshops are on show. Please note: educators must give notice of their planned school-group visit in advance.
On 14 and 15 May 2016 workshops will be held at the Kunsthalle, conceived and led by artists from all three partner countries. The participants (ages 14 to 18) will be selected by teachers in response to a selfie competition launched on social networks. The works produced in these workshops will then go on display in the art-appreciation room.
On Friday afternoons and during the school holidays, a range of special workshops and tours is on offer, allowing younger visitors to experience the exhibition through playful activities.
Art project FLICK_EU | Joint Project with ZKM
FLICK_EU harnesses the democratic promise of new media: all visitors are encouraged to make portraits of themselves and to present them in the museum and online. Parallel to the touring exhibition in Karlsruhe, Lyon, and Edinburgh a European portrait gallery will emerge and grow on the interactive platform FLICK_EU.
Peter Weibel (1944 Odessa), Matthias Gommel (1970 Leonberg)
Interactive installation: A photo-booth, a computer, four monitors
In FLICK_EU visitors have their portraits taken and become part of the exhibition. When a coin is inserted into the slot at the photo-booths, the usual passport photo is ejected. Simultaneously, the photograph is digitised and uploaded to the internet. From there it is relayed to museums, including the Kunsthalle, where it can be displayed, either on a monitor or as a projected image. Thanks to digitisation, the portrait can be displayed in several places at once. Visitors to the exhibition in Karlsruhe will be visible in Karlsruhe, Edinburgh and Lyon, their actual visit to the Kunsthalle thus leading to their virtual presence in two other museums. Projekt FLICK_EU is an artistic reflection of the function of the portrait in the age of digital media. At the same time, it fulfils the conditions for a community, since the visitor is also virtually present in other museums and cities. Thus the project creates a model in miniature of the European community.
Bernd Lintermann (1967 Düsseldorf), Joachim Tesch (1969 Münsingen)
Interactive installation based on the installation FLICK_EU by Peter Weibel and Matthias Gommel
Another perspective on the community of FLICK_EU citizens is provided by the installation FLICK_EU MIRROR. The visitor sees a live video of himself projected in front of him, which behaves like a mirror image. After a short while, the image becomes coarser and he realises that the individual pixels are portrait photos of people who have taken part in FLICK_EU. His own image is composed, like a mosaic, from the images of many other people. The virtual camera zooms over the frozen image, focussing on individual portraits. The visitor may even see himself, if he has recently digitised his photo in FLICK_EU. After a few minutes, his own mirror image reappears, emerging as an individual from the general community.
We invited Twitterati to descend on Karlsruhe to take part in an exclusive guided walk-through and tweet about the exhibition live. For those of you who couldn’t make it to the exhibition in person, you can still find out everything you need to know about the exhibition via the #Iamhere hashtag – in three languages. We received many tweets from Lyon and Edinburgh.
The Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe and Kulturkonsorten were launching a discussion and #Blogparade across social networks on the topic of selfies and wanted the public to get involved. The cause for the discussion was the exhibition I am here: From Rembrandt to the Selfie. To kick-start the discussion we were posting an exclusive preview of an essay from the exhibition catalogue, written by the art historian and cultural theorist Wolfgang Ullrich and dealing with the topic of selfies. The essay was posted on the Kunsthalle’s and Kulturkonsorten’s websites. In anticipation of the exhibition, the Kunsthalle involved commentators who came up with five posts to get the ball rolling by addressing the topic from five different angles. The #Blogparade around the hashtag #selfierade achieved many inspiring blogposts.
Instagram Photo Competition
A digital self-portrait only becomes a selfie when it is shared, liked, and commented on. In cooperation with the photography project This Ain’t Art School (@thisaintartschool) the Kunsthalle was holding a competition in the middle of January in which participants were given four tasks related to self-portraits and selfies. Creative contributions were posted on Instagram under the hashtag #portraitassignment_ka.
On show are 140 works by 100 artists from six centuries – a richly diverse panorama of self-portraiture in old and new media, from the intimate drawing to the selfie going viral on the World Wide Web, from Palma Vecchio to Ai Weiwei. Three European museums – the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, and Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe – have joined forces to produce this trinational art event. The project I am here. European faces has received generous support from the EU as part of the Creative Europe programme – managed by the EACEA (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency). Creative Europe is the new programme launched by the European Union for the cultural and creative sector in Europe for the period 2014 to 2020.
The exhibitions in Karlsruhe, Lyon, and Edinburgh will adopt different strategies in approaching this theme, as reflected in their slightly varying choice of exhibition titles. The curatorial perspectives on the combined works and the architectural settings of the displays will naturally vary from country to country, each time opening up new facets and interpretations of the exhibition for visitors. This website combines all three variations of the exhibition in one place, in German, English, and French.
Director, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe
“As the first leg in the European joint project ‘I am here!’, let me say a warm welcome to visitors to this website and the exhibition in Karlsruhe! With our partners in Lyon and Edinburgh, we’re opening up a fascinating panorama of self-portraits – showing 500 years of creative Europe. Get involved in the exhibition in your country through the FLICK_EU art project and become part of a European portrait gallery.”
Conservator in chief, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon
“Welcome to all! Dear visitors, We are very happy to join in with our collection and present you the touring exhibition ‘I am here!’. We hope you will enjoy discovering the diverse works of art contributed by the three museums united across Europe through the exhibition. See you soon in Lyon, shortly after the first stop in Karlsruhe.”
Sir John Leighton
Director General, National Galleries of Scotland
“The National Galleries of Scotland are very excited to be a partner in the Creative Europe project: ‘I am here. European Faces’. We look forward to exploring artistic identity through the collections of the three partner countries in the forthcoming exhibition once it arrives at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh in summer 2016.”
Three partners in Karlsruhe, Lyon, and Edinburgh present the travelling exhibition, “I am here!”: three museum institutions that were among the earliest of their kind to be founded in their respective countries, in the 19th century. All three collect art in all media, ranging from the early modern period to the present. All three collections boast seminal works of European art history, as well as lesser-known works by locally active artists.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Founded in 1801, the Fine Arts Museum of Lyon is housed within the walls of a majestic Benedictine abbey, which was built in the second half of the 17th century. A four-sided construction, the museum surrounds cloisters and a peaceful garden featuring sculptures by Rodin, Bourdelle and others. The 7000 m² museum has 70 exhibition rooms which are home to outstanding collections of antique art from Egypt, the Near and Middle East to Greece and Rome, art objects from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, coins and medals from antiquity to the present day, sculptures by Chinard, Canova, Pradier and others as well as graphic arts and classical paintings, including works by Perugino, Veronese, Rubens and Rembrandt, impressionists such as Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin, and modernists, most notably Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and Soulages. The Fine Arts museum of Lyon organises major international exhibitions throughout the year as well as cultural activities for all audience groups.
National Galleries of Scotland
The National Galleries of Scotland is one of the most important museum groups in Europe. Based in Edinburgh, its collection is divided into three major groupings: the Scottish National Gallery, with its outstanding collection of European painting from the Renaissance to post-Impressionism; the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, with a strong and deliberate focus on Scottish portraiture and Scottish portrait photography that allows visitors to trace the history of the country through portraits and cultural-historical objects; and, thirdly, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, a gallery of Scottish and international art dating from 1900 onwards, notable for the strength of its collection of Dada and Surrealist art. Each of the three museums has its own building dedicated to it and is known for holding internationally renowned exhibitions.
Each collection – from Karlsruhe, Lyon, and Edinburgh – is making a distinct contribution to the project. In what way?
Dorit Schäfer, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe: The Kunsthalle Karlsruhe is strongly represented with wonderful Netherlandish paintings from the 17th century. For the Romantic period we can expect several outstanding self-portraits that are striking for their sensitivity and intensity of expression, such as the double portrait of the Winterhalter Brothers or Anselm Feuerbach’s portrait of himself as a young man. Finally, we are providing several important works representative of the Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity, a movement in fact closely associated with the city of Karlsruhe. Artists such as Georg Scholz, Wilhelm Schnarrenberger, and Karl Hubbuch captivate the eye with the cool precision of their painting. On show in Lyon and Edinburgh, their works will shed fresh light on German modern art, whose full scope has still not been quite realized abroad.
Stéphane Paccoud, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon: The selection of self-portraits from Lyon consists of mainly ancient and 19th century artworks. The museum of Fine Arts hosts one of the richest collections of 19th century art in France, and many artists from the Lyon school, which was one of the most important at this time, are represented in the exhibition. For instance, the self-portrait chosen for the poster of the exhibition at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe was painted by Louis Janmot. The artist was Ingres’ pupil, and only 18 years old when he painted this portrait, in 1832. This work has recently been acquired by the museum of Fine Arts, and is a characteristic example of the Lyon school.
Imogen Gibbon, National Galleries of Scotland Edinburgh: Paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, collage and sculpture from the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) all feature in the exhibition. The earliest work is dated 1510 and the most recent artwork was made in 2012. To illustrate the wide range of works on display, the former is a black chalk drawing by the Italian artist Palma Vecchio – one of the most innovative and original painters in early sixteenth-century Venice. The latter is by Angela Palmer and is called Brain of the Artist. This is a sculpture and is based on MRI scans taken of the artist’s brain, engraved on sixteen sheets of glass to create a three-dimensional image which appears to float in a glass chamber.
What were the special challenges in getting this project off the ground? Were there any surprises?
Dorit Schäfer, Karlsruhe: Working with colleagues from Edinburgh and Lyon was highly interesting, because it revealed different ways of working and sometimes different perspectives on the art. Visitors to the exhibition will get to encounter artists rarely represented in exhibitions in this country. For example: Louis Janmot’s incredibly penetrating portrait of the artist as a young man or the bizarre self-portrait of Jean Baptiste Frénet, who portrays his head melded on the muscular body of a nude from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The exhibition has also expanded our horizon when it comes to contemporary British art, by featuring paintings by John Patrick Byrne, Ken Currie, and Alison Watt—artists working outside the recognized mainstream of international contemporary art.
Stéphane Paccoud, Lyon: What we have found very exciting is the professional interaction with our European counterparts and the exploration of practices that lie at the root of this common project between our three institutions. Comparing one another’s work habits and sharing knowledge in a European context have led to this first exhibition and to the discovery of lesser-known artists from each of our three museums’ collections—discoveries soon to be shared with our visitors.
Imogen Gibbon, Edinburgh: Turning a long list of self-portraits into a final short list! There are around 400 self-portraits in the National Galleries of Scotland collection – the final number of portraits from the collection which feature in the exhibition are around 50.
The visitors in Karlsruhe, Lyon, and Edinburgh are supposed to participate in the project – why is that important for this exhibition?
Dorit Schäfer, Karlsruhe: Nowadays, in the age of the selfie, it isn’t just artists who contemplate the question of self-depiction. It seemed imperative to us to use the exhibits to get the visitors directly involved in our exhibition. And the Flick_EU and Flick_EU Mirror project is a perfect example of that. With a photo booth installed in the exhibition, visitors can make a portrait of themselves and become part of the exhibition when it goes on show in all three cities. This interactive side-project within the exhibition opens up questions on the role of the individual, the urge to capture one’s self-image, and the dissolution of the individual in masses and masses of digital images. The flood of selfies and self-portrait poses which threatens to overwhelm us on social networks can, however, also sharpen our senses in gauging the special qualities of the ‘historical’ self-portraits.
Stéphane Paccoud, Lyon: The theme of the self-portrait has a very broad appeal in present-day culture, with the selfie becoming a contemporary habit. The exhibition contextualizes this concept in past periods of the history of art and provides new perspectives on the question of the self and its visual representation. Both actual visitors to the exhibition and a virtual audience (online and/or via social media) can participate, either by sending in their own selfies and pictures or being part of the installation developed by the ZKM. This active participation enriches the content of the exhibition and enhances the visiting experience, and the audience’s personal relationship with the three museums involved in this common project is strengthened as a result.
Imogen Gibbon, Edinburgh: The self-portrait naturally creates questions for the viewer – by participating in the exhibition, through the creation of their own photographic self-portrait, visitors will engage with these questions and pose answers in the same manner the artists on display in the exhibition have done. Self-portraits are fluid, in the sense there are no boundaries: born in Antiquity, matured in the Renaissance and familiar today for a myriad of reasons – here is an opportunity for visitors in three countries to place themselves in the next stage of the development of the self-portrait and consider their relationship in the wider world.
Learn more about the artworks
Brief information regarding the key works of art is provided below.
Louis Janmot: Self-Portrait, 1832
This self-portrait, created when the artist was just eighteen, is the earliest known work by Louis Janmot. It was painted shortly after his admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and earned him first prize in the school’s competition. The young painter holds the palette and brush as if he is about to set to work on the very painting we see before us. His determined face betrays the great ambitions he envisions for his chosen career. The picture is striking for the artist’s penetrating gaze which seems to evoke the idea, popular among the Romantics, of artistic genius arising from the depths of the self.
Annie Lennox, Allan Martin: Self-Portrait, 2003
Annie Lennox is one of Britain’s most famous singer-songwriters and social activists and has been portrayed as such in countless photographs and films. This photograph is a reference to the self-portrait Lennox chose as the cover of her third solo album, Bare (2003). The two ageless, gender-neutral, and racially ambiguous images were made in cooperation with her partner, the graphic designer Allan Martin.
Andy Warhol: Self-portrait with Fright Wig, 1986
Andy Warhol is an iconic figure and his portrait is as legendary today as his art. He was preoccupied with his appearance throughout his lifetime and the silver wig became an integral part of his identity from the early sixties. After he had established himself as a successful Pop artist, self-portraits became increasingly important in his later oeuvre. His portraits from the sixties are based on pictures from photo booths that were enlarged, transformed into silk-screen prints and then transferred to canvas. When he began to work with Polaroids again twenty years later, a series emerged that he also reproduced as paintings. These four self-portraits demonstrate the significance that role-play and the wearing of different wigs and make-up had for the artist. If he were still alive today, he would no doubt be the king of the selfie.
Anselm Feuerbach: Self-portrait as a Young Man, 1851/52
Anselm Feuerbach cultivated a personality cult that bordered on the insufferable and which was reflected in a profusion of self-portraits. Here the young Feuerbach draws inspiration from the painting techniques of Rembrandt, whose self-portraits he had studied closely. To achieve his penetrating gaze, Feuerbach often checked his physiognomy in a mirror. This portrait is a document both of self-scrutiny and self-posturing, with theatrical lighting that almost demonizes his aspect. It is what art-historians term a ‘formula of pathos’ that allows the artist, not shy of announcing his genius, to show his personality in just the right light – gas light, in this case.
Simon Vouet: Self-portrait, c. 1626
Simon Vouet’s self-portrait effervesces with vitality. The carefully modelled face, with its finely executed shadows beneath the eyes and the slightly opened mouth, radiates great intensity. The painter’s presence is intensified by dispensing with a depiction of the body. Clothing and surroundings are merely hinted at. It is uncertain whether the painting was created during Vouet’s 15-year stay in Italy or once back in France. The painter returned in 1627. He was named court painter to Ludwig XIII in the same year and executed numerous prestigious commissions in the years thereafter.
Hans Thoma: Self-Portrait with Love and Death, 1875
Hans Thoma’s self-portrait is a direct reference to Self-portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle made by his friend Arnold Böcklin (Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin) in 1872. The message, however, has been clearly altered in Thoma’s work: the laurel wreath as an attribute of death raises the question of whether an artist’s fame can survive after he has died. The fact that the winged cherub bears a resemblance to Thoma’s later wife Cella Bertenender, whom he had just met, turns the demonic melodrama of Böcklin’s work into something positive. The painter portrays himself positioned between a small child and a skeleton, between life and death, but still with the certainty that ‘amor vincit omnia’—love conquers all.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: The Painter (Self-Portrait), 1920
There are a great many self-portraits by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner from all phases of his work. This linocut is an example of his mixed-style phase, during which he attempted to unify various different influences. With its almost two-dimensional simplicity, it is reminiscent of a paper cut-out. The delicate, luminescent watercolours are characteristic of this period, creating areas of green through the overprinting of yellow and blue. Kirchner produced relatively few impressions of his coloured prints: he wanted to emphasize their uniqueness, as for him they existed on a par with his paintings. During the years of the First World War, Kirchner went through a deep crisis. Bouts of anxiety and medicinal drug addictions caused an increasing fear of losing his creativity, a trauma that he also made into a theme in his self-portrayals. This canvas depicts him in the act of painting in the narrow living room in his home in the Swiss town of Davos, to which he had withdrawn in the hope of making a recovery, and where he lived until his suicide in 1938.
Antoine Duclaux: Lyonnaise Artists Stopping at Barbe Island, 1824
This painting is regarded as a central work by Antoine Duclaux. It was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1824 and literally became the manifesto of the young Lyon School. At the centre of the painting can be seen Duclaux’s mentor Fleury Richard, wearing a top hat, who at the time had been dismissed from his professorship at the École des beaux-arts de Lyon in consequence of an intrigue by his rival Pierre Révoil. Gathered around him are his most successful pupils, whom art critics had termed the “Lyon School” since 1819. Assembled from left to right are: the sculptor Jean François Legendre-Héral and the painters Augustin Thierriat, Michel Genod, Anthelme Trimolet, Jean Marie Jacomin, Étienne Rey, Claude Bonnefond and Hector Reverchon.
Gustave Courbet: The Lovers in the Countryside, Feelings of Youth (The Happy Lovers), 1844
Gustave Courbet made about twenty self-portraits in the period between 1842 and 1855. They gave the artist the opportunity to create a setting and construct a specific image of himself: at first, still under the influence of Romanticism, as a lonely, misunderstood genius and later as a provincial painter who cares little for social customs. The self-portrait on display here shows the painter in the company of his lover Virginie Binet who left him in 1852. Courbet only gave the work the title The Lovers in the Countryside in 1855, no doubt a deliberate allusion to his earlier happiness.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: Self-portrait, c. 1645/48
It would seem logical to assume that Rembrandt’s blatantly gloomy disposition in this self-portrait is tied to events in his private life, for it was created around the time of the death of his beloved wife, Saskia, in 1642, a period of personal and creative crisis. Yet for Rembrandt, the work was not intended to be an analysis of the self. His aim was rather to paint a captivating piece of art that would attract a buyer. Self-portraits in the seventeenth century were not personal. After completion, they were quickly sold on to wealthy patrons. The emotions in Rembrandt’s self-portraits are acted and even his clothing is part of a staged scene, as if he were playing a role in the theatre. This self-portrait is rightly considered a masterpiece and is perfect for the study of Rembrandt’s extraordinary painting style, with different areas of the same work executed in a variety of techniques: while the face, despite the use of impasto, is very precisely and finely modelled, his robe is more sketchily painted, giving an unfinished impression.
Jean Carriès: The Warrior, 1881
Jean Carriès was one of the most innovative sculptors of his time. He created numerous fantasy busts in historical dress. The Warrior presumably depicts the artist himself—a kind of imaginary self-portrait with armour and helmet. The work plainly references Spanish art of the 17th century, while the helmet and armour perhaps point to the staged settings and props used by Rembrandt. These allusions, together with the deliberate confusion caused by the self-portrayal and the melancholy gaze counteract the military impression of the work, and an underlying atmosphere of introspection and meditation emerges in its place.
Michel Dumas: Self-portrait, c. 1838
Michel Dumas is one of the many artists from Lyon who started their training in the studio of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The painter presents himself wearing a typical artist’s cap, but also an elegant robe hardly conceivable as suitable work clothing. In the background we see the verso of a painting. Perhaps it is his best-known work Abraham and Hagar (1838). Scholars suspect this may be the case because the Lyon-born art collector Lodoïx Monnier, Dumas’s most loyal patron, purchased Abraham and Hagar and was also the first owner of this self-portrait.
Joseph Vivien: Self-portrait with Palette, c. 1715
His arm supported by a portfolio and a palette, Vivien points to the paintbrushes that identify him as a history painter. His gaze directed towards the viewer and the hint of a smile attest to the pride of the painter; he stands with his chest out, underlining his determination. Educated in Paris, Joseph Vivien served as court painter to Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. At the time this painting was created, the artist was at the pinnacle of his career: in the background, we can see a pre-study for his masterpiece Allegory of Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria Being Reunited with His Family in 1715. The monumental painting, made between 1715 and 1733 (Staatsgalerie Schleißheim), commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Rastatt on 7 March 1714.
Vincenzo Campi: The Ricotta Eaters, c. 1580
There are six other versions of the Ricotta Eaters known in existence, but in all probability only this one was painted by Campi himself. He depicts himself as a jolly philosopher, with his arm crossing the centre of a composition that seems infused with infectious laughter. Campi’s advice to the viewer is to enjoy life’s pleasures, but without expecting too much of them. The holes hollowed out in the ricotta by the spoonful make the soft cheese evocative of a skull, and a fly crawls unnoticed on its surface. This traditional motif of vanitas painting warns of the perils of indulgence and reminds the viewer of the inevitability of death.
Sarah Lucas: Self-Portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996
Sarah Lucas’s portrayals of men and women are imbued with an irreverent sense of humour and vernacular language that challenge sexual stereotypes and conventional morals. In Self-portrait with Fried Eggs, she adopts a provocative, macho pose. The fried eggs on her breasts are a parody of the usual connotations associated with female (and male) sexual attributes. In Self-portrait with Skull, Lucas’s pose seems to equate sex with death, in this way revealing dark urges not only related to passion but also to self-destruction. In Got a Salmon On #3, she is pictured in front of a public toilet. The slang connotations of the title and huge salmon over her shoulder are an ironic reference to the concept of female erection.
John Byrne: John Patrick Byrne (Self-portrait in a Flowered Jacket), 1971–1973
This self-portrait is a tribute to one of the best-known outsiders of modern art: Henri Rousseau, the key representative of ‘naïve art’, whom Byrne greatly admired. Created in the wake of a trip to America, it also reflects Byrne’s fascination with the distinct Californian light and the ‘flower power’ of the time. The numerous, strikingly protean self-portraits which the artist produced over the course of his career suggest a variable and malleable identity. Equally known for his writing, Byrne presents himself in his art in an array of guises and costumes, attitudes and masks, moods and circumstances. The undoubted humorous streak to his poses is also tinged with a tragic element.
Robert Henderson Blyth: Existence Precarious, 1946
During the Second World War, Robert Henderson Blyth spent four years as a medic in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The experiences of this period are reflected in many of his works, which are dominated by dark premonitions and figures frozen in the midst of scenes of devastation and destruction. This self-portrait shows him beset on all sides by a snowy, chaotic landscape. A faceless figure at his back seems to have frozen to death, while the artist himself appears fixed to the spot. The artist’s piercing blue eyes are turned slightly upwards; they stare out at us, involving us directly in the scene.