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The art of the self portrait

Why do artists paint self portraits? Is it pure narcissism or is there another factor at work? The simplest answer to offer you is that artists need to paint, and if they want to paint from life - using a real life model - who better to use as a model than themselves? The self is always available, doesn't complain (too much) and there's no need to worry about sensibilities (don't make me look fat, don't make my nose too long etc etc).


Some of the greatest artists is history were serial self-portraitists. Rembrant van Rijn was perhaps the most famous of all those who committed their own image to canvas and the expansive series of self portraits he left behind now act as a marker for the ups and downs he experienced in life. He was a man visited in equal measure by joy and tragedy, wealth and poverty, and this is very much reflected in his self portraits.


The German painter Albrecht Durer was probably the first European painter to embrace this particular art form - even going as far as painting a full frontal nude of himself. Perhaps more well known was Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh whose most famous self portrait depicted himself bandaged in the wake of his ear self mutilation.


I have now painted seven self portraits, each of them in different styles and each depiction has its own qualities. What I have discovered is that obtaining a likeness is one path to painting a successful portrait but perhaps even more important is to provide an insight into my own character or to make a comment on myself that transcends physical appearance.


I attach my latest self portrait here. You can see a fuller version in the gallery section on this site. My aim was to show myself merging from, yet part of, a background of jumbled noise. Perhaps it says something about my current state of mind.



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