What did Van Gough look like? We can all easily picture the solemn stare of a man with flame-like hair.
The most renowned painters are from a time when cameras did not exist, and without their self-portraits, we wouldn’t really know what they themselves looked like. Artists use their art to capture their surroundings and to showcase their feelings. And self-portraits help the viewer understand the artist at a personal level.
In this article, I have added 10 of the most beautiful self-portraits by famous artists. To know more about the paintings as well as the artists themselves, continue reading.
1. Frida Kahlo
Freida Kahlo is considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists, and she is popular for her revealing and brutal self-portraits. The Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is one of her most famous works, and it also contains many tokens of her work as well as her life.
Kahlo went on to make about 143 paintings in her life, and most of them were self-portraits. She stated that she painted herself often because she was the subject she knew most as she spent a lot of time alone. The famous painter was involved in an accident, and she taught herself to paint while she recovered. Soon painting became a safe haven for her.
This specific painting was created right after she got divorced; the thrones around her neck are believed to signify her pain during that time. Many art historians believe that the white frock hints at martyrdom, and the butterflies are thought to be the symbols of Kahlo’s own personal resurrection.
In Mexican culture, a hummingbird signifies good luck, and the black cat in the painting is ready to pounce on it. Many believe that Kahlo wishes to portray the wish of love in a dark time in her life.
Today much of Kahlo’s work, as well as this painting, is featured in a garden show “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.”
2. Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Burn was the favorite artist as well as the friend of Marie Antoinette and is thought to be the most stylish painter in France during the Revolution. Her father was also a successful painter, and he is the one who taught her to paint and easily eclipsed him.
Elizabeth greatly admired the portraits created by Ruben, especially the one he made of Susanna Lunden, in which she wears a straw hat. She was inspired by the way Ruben captured the light, and she was determined to create a self-portrait with the same qualities, and hence, the Lady with the Straw Hat was born.
This painting exemplified Elizabeth’s movement away from the conventions of Rococo artifice towards a much more simpler and natural look. In it, she stands with her tools in her hand, in the open air and engaging the viewer with an almost direct gaze. Sunlight falls of her and helps illuminate her neck as well as her exposed chest. She is wearing a straw hat that casts a shadow over her pretty face, and she also adorns an arrangement of flowers and a large feather. Her face a natural and unpowdered, and she has a messy hairstyle. If you believe that the rustic garb meant she was poor, then you should take a look at her earrings.
3. Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most recognizable painters of all time. His unique style has attracted million towards his work. His development as an artist was defined by his candid series of amazing self-portraits. The paintings do not only showcase alterations in his painting techniques but also the decline of his mental state with honesty and humility not seen since the self-portraits. In the last half-decade of his life, he painted about 30 self-portraits.
This specific self-portrait is actually one of his later works. The style of drawing, as well as the sense of colors, reflects his emotional state and energy. He painted this self-portrait shortly after he left the St. Remy asylum in the year 1889, and this painting shows how Van Gogh was fighting with his inner demons. This piece of art might just be the most intense self-portrait in the history of art.
This painting is a vivid showcase of Van Gough’s internal struggle. His piercing eyes hold you transfixed, but their main focus is not the outside, but what’s happening inside his head. The eyes are the most tightly drawn feature, and the energy of the picture builds from there. Blues and greens are mostly calm colors, but in contrast with his red hair and beard, they strike a rather jarring note which perfectly sets the mental tone of the painting. This painting is of a simple man who is trying his best to battle with his inner demons and fears.
4. Gerard ter Borch
Gerard Ter Borch belonged to a famous Dutch family of artists and was born in the year 1617. He was the oldest of all siblings and was also known as Gerard Ter Borch the Younger. He began training with his father at an early age and was an excellent pupil.
The famous painter is known for his group portraits, such as The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Munster. He was later knighted and also received a gold chain from the king of Spain. He began painting portraits soon, and about half of his work involves human beings and are portraits.
He preferred to have his subjects stand in front of bare and dark backgrounds. His self-portraits were all also of the same nature. In this specific portrait, he adorns a cloak that seems to be of black silk or velvet while supporting the hairstyle of that era.
Gerard Ter Borch had his own distinctive type of interior genre, which he showcased with fidelity and grace. His portraits were mostly painted on a small, almost miniature scale, although many of them are of full length. The colors of his paintings are not bright, mostly due to the sober costumes of that time.
5. Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso was a man of many talents. He was an amazing painter, was a pro at collaging, and also a great sculptor. He employed a variety of styles, used unique materials, and also different kinds of art forms. While most people only know him for his abstract, topsy-turvy paintings, his work from 1896 to 1900 exhibits his ability to sketch and also to paint beautiful realistic depictions.
After the year 1900 in 1901, Picasso set foot into his blue period in which he painted somber, stylized scenes in different blue tones, which is quite apparent in his self-portrait of the same year.
He painted a portrait in the year 1907 when he was about 25 years old. This was the beginning of his Rose Period, in which he began to use a warmer color palette of pink. At this point in time, his portraits still had some human outlines; later, his portraits became rather abstract.
This specific portrait is a prime example of his Cubist stage in which he incorporated fractured forms, geometry, and thick black lines. The tones are also a bit muddish with emphasis on browns and reds. Picasso is actually famous for his Cubist style, and he carried on dabbling in it till his death in the year 1973.
6. Gustave Courbet
This portrait was known as The Desperate Man and has been painted by the famous painter, Gustave Courbet. Courbet is actually one of the most recognized painters of all time, and he earned all his success at a very young age. He produced about twenty-five self-portraits, which helped to offer his viewers a glimpse into the formulation of his psychological evolution as well as his early identity.
Many have argued that The Desperate man conveys many different psychological states or messages. This painting was one of his early works when he was at the apex of his Romantic disillusionment and melancholy. In the painting, his expressions seem to be one of both psychosis and fear. He clenches his dark hair, and his arms are raised above his head, with tense muscles bulging from his forearms and wrists. It is believed that Courbet’s objective was to share the intensity of the of a moment, in which the artist ends his Roman education and suddenly becomes aware of his downfall and then along the same lines finds the power to repudiate a future that is not his.
This painting is one of his most popular and vital works, and it remained in his studio until he died. His career developed in a transitional period in which romanticism was giving way to realism and modernism in European visual culture. His early portraits are much different than his later ones.
7. Egon Schiele
Egon Schiele was a famous painter who had a rather short life. His early demise fascinates critics, historians as well as artists. His works were nowhere near the acceptable norm, he continuously pushed the boundaries of acceptability, and his work was more towards the erotic side. His portraits present an intense insight into the reality of the human condition.
His self-portraits showcased glimpses of his personality, sometimes tortured, often arrogant, or maverick images of self. They are all rather fascinating and highly compelling. Schiele has the ability to bring the viewer close to himself, to his love and the lost, to his acquaintances, focusing completely on those individuals, their minds and emotions, mostly without any distractions in the background.
Schiele created about 300 paintings and 3000 works on paper, and he used sharply drawn angular lines and a mixture of color, which helped him reject the conventional standards of beauty, and he introduced ugliness as an emotion to the world. Most of his drawings were considered inappropriate at the time, and he was also arrested for seducing and abducting a young girl. The painter had a reputation of bringing in teenage girls to model for him.
His work is known to showcase the division if human personalities, the complexities, and the distance, and then the closeness of relations among humans as well as the possibility of compassion.
8. Anthony van Dyck
Anthony van Dyck who was a prolific European painter who was popular for paintings that involved religious as well as mythological subjects. He was also a rather fine sketcher and draftsman. He was the son of a silk merchant and was one of twelve siblings. Hi first surviving work dates back to 1613, and in the early days of his career as an artist, he was inspired by Ruben’s technique of enamel-like glazes; he painted with a rather coarse texture. Anthony van Dyck used a much darker color scheme as compared to his mentor.
He was known to exaggerate the expressions as well as the emotions of his subjects. The saints were shown to dwell in feverish ecstasy while the executioners were enveloped in brutality. His self-portraits were rather subtle and did not showcase a range of intense emotions. In this specific painting, the young Anthony van Dyck carriers no tools of his trade, and this painting probably was created before he left his native Antwerp for Italy in the autumn of 1621.
The elegant drapery in the image can be associated with Van Dyck’s love for fine clothing as his father was a silk merchant. It was also a symbol of rich attire.
9. Albrecht Durer
Albrecht Durer was a German artist and was one of the greatest figures of the Northern Renaissance. He was a painter as well as a draughtsman, plus he rivaled his elder contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci. His work of allegorical scenes, masterful woodcuts, and engravings of mythical scenes made him famous all over Europe.
Albrecht Durer made many self-portraits throughout his lifetime. This Christ-like self-portrait was painted in 1500, just a couple of months before the painter’s 29th birthday. The painting is now in the collection of the Alte Pinakothek and is made in oil on a wooden panel.
In his former self-portraits, Durer always painted a three-quarter view, but in this painting, he directly looks at the viewer; this pose was usually preserved for Christ at that time. His hand in the painting is touching the fur collar of his coat, which seems like a religious gesture. The extremely symmetric composition draws attention to his eyes, which look directly upon the viewer. This painting was actually the last of the three self-portraits he painted.
This painting is thought to be the most complex, personal, and iconic of all his self-portraits, and the one that has become fixed in the popular imagination.
Durer’s monogram “AD,” and the inscription in Latin-“I, Albrecht Durer of Nuremberg, portrayed myself in everlasting colors aged twenty-eight years” are both placed at eye-level in order to strengthen the effect.
10. Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud was a British artist that was born in Germany, and he was the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. His work has always shown carried an aura of tension that exists between matter and reality. Freud was more into figurative art rather than the abstract trend, which was popular in his time.
In most of his portraits, Freud always appears with a posture that is forced; either he looks out from the corner of his eye, or he is squinting his eyes shut or downwards. He was super obsessed with the human body, and that led him to give birth to his very own genre.
This painting is called Reflection with two children, and this was painted in the year 1965. In this painting, he looks down at his own reflection while his two kids Ali Boyt and Rose. There is a halo-like ceiling light just above his left shoulder. Freud used the mirror in a very different way, and in this painting, he just stares at it with a cold expression. This strange yet amusing painting showcases Freud as the father figure while his children as depicted as very tiny, far in the back.
The entire painting has been created used cool tones, mostly pale grey, and the light bounces off Freud’s face and hands, making them appear even brighter. This painting did not get much attention at first as it is one of his first works in which he used a double mirror.