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Emma Tabor: Slide Show: 6 December 2002

Self Portraiture Through the Centuries

(Notes by Peter Johnson)

Emma Tabor gave us an insight into the development of Self Portraiture from the mid 15th to the late 20th Century illustrated by almost 50 slides of works from about 20 artists arranged chronologically by the artist's date of birth.

Of these the earliest was Lorenzo Ghilberti c1425 "Gates of Paradise", Baptistery, Florence. At this time self-portraits were limited to images put discretely into larger commissioned works. Another example was Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497) who depicted himself in the crowd in the right-hand panel of the triptych "In the Procession of the Magi".

The earliest example of an artist producing a self-portrait for its own sake was Albrecht Durer in 1498 and later in his "Self Portrait as Saviour of the World" (1500/6). Compared to this Raphael (1483-1520) painted a much simpler portrait.

Emma described Rembrandt as "probably the King of Self Portraitists" and showed many of his self-portraits painted between 1629 (aged 23) and 1669, the year of his death, at 63.

Moving on some 150 years to the late 18th Century, Emma showed Joshua Reynolds contrasting a painting made in his mid 50s, in a somewhat self-important pose, with that of a more relaxed man-at-home pose, aged 60, in 1783. Representative of the same period was Thomas Gainsborough where we see the artist as a family man of 21 in his self-portrait with wife & daughter (1748) and at age 60 in 1787.

By the 1790s we start to see artists portraying themselves as artists with Francisco Goya "Self Portrait in the Studio" (1793/5) and another, 2 years later, with a canvas included in the composition. Emma showed another Goya painted between 1817 and 1819 which showed him relaxing at home, similar to the later work by Reynolds.

Goya was the last of artists before the advent of photography. Black and White photographs competed with portraits as a likeness. So in the 19th century we start to see more character put into self-portraits.

Two self-portraits by Edgar Degas painted in 1852 and 1857 showed the influence of photography and were compared with a photo of Degas from Manet's Album.

Berthe Morisot was represented by a "lively piece" painted in 1885 and five years later with her daughter in a work that was much more formal like the Gainsborough shown earlier.

Two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) showed the artist more concerned with the painting process than with precision. In one of the examples with a predominance of blue tones the actual direction of the brush strokes was very important in distinguishing the portrait from the background. Emma's last 19th Century work was an etching and aquatint by Kathe Kollwitz (1893).

The last seven artists were all working in the 20th Century. These examples showed the artist striving for a style with little or no attempt to capture a true likeness. Two works by Paula Modersohn-Becker from 1903 and 1906 showed a cubist influence.

In Marc Chagall's "Self-portrait with Woman" we saw a flight of fantasy abandoning all attempt at a likeness so too in the 1911/12 "Self portrait with 7 fingers"!

Emma showed a pencil drawing by Dora Carrington, produced in 1910, which was unusual for the period as it did not show the whole face but concentrated on the eyes and contours of the face with the rest of the head being less important. In contrast was a more complete pencil and watercolour of the artist in blue baggy trousers (1913).

Alberto Giacommetti's painting in 1921 showed the artist at work. The sketch produced in 1937 was still quite realistic whilst by 1955 the need for a likeness has totally disappeared.

Other 20th Century works were by Francis Bacon (1958 and 1973) Peter Blake Ink & Gouache (1952/3) and "Self Portrait with Badges" (1961).

Finally, works by Andy Warhol in 1964 and 1967 showed the photograph taking over almost completely and becoming the art.

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