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Self Portrait

(Originally posted on December 17, 2016 by)

Self-portrait, 2016, oil on canvas, 65 x 55cm

Left is a recent self portrait. There are pros and cons to painting self-portraits:

Pros: The model is always on time. He keeps still. He takes a break and comes back to work at your bidding. He wears the right clothes. He does not waste time. He is quite good company even if he does not say much. He works for free.

Cons: You can not measure him up with a paintbrush or plumb line (if you start to do so, he rather irritatingly measures you back). He has a tendency to look at you intensely and occasionally appear a little cross or slightly crazy. He will appear to be holding his paintbrush in the wrong hand, have his parting on the wrong side of the head and his mole on the wrong cheek. You have to position him carefully in the light.

Sir Joshua Reynolds by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1747-1749, oil on canvas, 63.5 cm x 74.3 cm), National Portrait Gallery, London

Now the direction of the light in a self portrait is particularly tricky. Right is a self-portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds which demonstrates succinctly the problem of having the light straight-on when you are trying to paint your image in the mirror.

Rembrandt van Rhyn, Self-Portrait as a Young Man, c. 1628, oil on panel, 22. 5 x 18.6 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Here you have a young Rembrandt painting himself with the light behind him, thus avoiding the problem Reynolds had to face (pun intended). The effect is dramatic but we see precious little of the artist.

Self-portrait, John Singer Sargent, 1906, 70 × 53 cm Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Below is Sargent placing the light to one side.

This is sensible and means we can see at least half his face and he could also see what he was doing.

I decided to be sensible like Sargent.

There is one other downside to painting self portraits – they do not sell well unless the artist is young, beautiful and preferably female. I imagine my children will inherit mine.


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