Research point- self portraits

Research artists’ self-portraits. Begin by looking at historic examples, such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, and then use the reading list and other resources at your disposal to look at some self-portrait styles that have emerged in contemporary art. How do contemporary artists approach tone, medium, pose, story, etc., in self-portraiture. Make notes in your learning log.

Albrecht Dürer, was the first great career self-portraitist and painted himself (c 1500) with flowing crinkly locks in an unforgettable image that is generally considered ‘Christ like’.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-Portrait_(Dürer,_Munich) 

I found this very interesting link to an article about self portraits on the Tate website; http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/self-portrait  William Hogarth’s self portrait is featured in the article, which is a statement of the artist’s professional ambition. The picture contains a number of coded messages-

The oval canvas containing Hogarth’s portrait appears propped up on volumes of Shakespeare, Swift and Milton, authors who inspired Hogarth’s commitment to drama, satire and epic poetry. On his palette is the ‘Line of Beauty and Grace’, which underpinned Hogarth’s theories on art. Hogarth’s pug dog, Trump, serves as an emblem of the artist’s own pugnacious character

The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00112
The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00112

In the nineteenth century one of the most famous and most prolific of self portraitists was Vincent van Gogh, who between 1886 and 1889 drew and painted himself over 40 times.  His technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line. https://youtu.be/WHtHQGr3LUQ 

Unlike van Gogh’s paintings of his sitters, in his self-portraits he seldom directs his gaze at the viewer, and when he does its glaring and fixed. His self-portraits vary in intensity and colour, perhaps a reflection of his state of mind.  Van Gogh’s inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.

I was interested to look at three self portraits by the artist Stanley Spencer.   The first in ink and chalk on paper (1913) has distinctive Old Master qualities in its network of cross hatching, a characteristic reminiscent in particular of the drawings of Michelangelo (1475–1564), in whose technique Spencer was interested. He was a student at the Slade school of art where students were encouraged to study techniques by the old masters.

Self-Portrait 1913 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T11974
Self-Portrait 1913 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T11974

Spencer’s first self-portrait in oils, was painted in 1914. In its dark and rich colour harmonies and its strongly modelled form, the painting attempts to emulate the style of an Old Master painting.

Self-Portrait 1914 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06188
Self-Portrait 1914 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06188

The last was painted in 1958 just before his death.  It struck me how much the style and feel of the portrait had changed since his early life.  The work is remarkable for the unflinching scrutiny of the artist’s gaze, and its use of extreme close-up to convey a sense of physical and psychological intensity.

Self-Portrait 1959 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03335
Self-Portrait 1959 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03335

I adore works by Lucien Freud. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucian_Freud  I visited an exhibition of his in my twenties and was blown away by both the emotional content, and the stark honesty of his work.  His brush-work is full of energy and imagination while his use of colour conveys the slightest change in tonal values to create tension with rhythmic relationships.

Reflection (Self-Portrait) Lucian Freud (1985)
self-portrait-1985.l freud
Freud did not begin to employ thick sculptural brushstrokes until later in his career when he adopted a radical change in approach and technique, a decision which lost him some important supporters in the art world at the time.  His works are noted for their psychological penetration and their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.
Freud’s early paintings, which are mostly very small, are often associated with German Expressionism.  From the 1950s, he began to work in portraiture, often nudes (though his first full length nude was not painted until 1966), to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, and by the middle of the decade developed a much more free style using large hogs-hair brushes, with an intense concentration of the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto.

As suggested I looked at Tracey Emin’s self-portraits. She often uses monoprints and draws fast and ‘blind’ to produce expressive, frantic marks.  https://artofericwayne.com/2014/02/13/tracey-emins-new-series-of-forgot-drawings-are-brutally-honest/   Her previous conceptual style freed her from the constraints of conventional drawing and believes that accuracy and representation are crutches in drawing This is why Tracey states, “Some of my favourite drawings I have done with my eyes closed – or so drunk I do not remember making them.”  Her drawings are eruptions of emotion swathed in memory. The need to express the feeling is released spontaneously through the pen or pencil without premeditation.

tracey-emin-self-portraint

“Self Portrait in Mirror” by Tracey Emin. The artist said of this piece, “When I looked at it, it was like when you see yourself in a mirror you didn’t know was there.”

I get the impression from looking at different self portraits that contemporary artists have a much greater licence to approach the use of tone, medium, pose, and narrative much more flexibly than the traditional old masters had.  There seems to be as much importance placed on emotional narrative, context and sense of place as in capturing resemblance.

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