Research Point: Self-Portraits throughout History

For this Research Point, I was tasked with finding self-portraits throughout history, including some more contemporary pieces, which I decided to try to find ones which closer resembled my own developing style.

Rembrandt (1606 to 1669)

Fig. 1. Rembrandt Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 (1669)

Rembrandt is one of the most well-known artists of history and one who created several self-portraits in quite a similar style throughout his lifetime. This piece has quite a moody atmosphere to it, which I was instantly drawn to. I don’t really like light and delicate pieces, but much prefer darker and moody, so this piece really draws me in. I can see that the light is focussed almost solely on the face, leaving the remainder of the piece in almost darkness. I think the piece is rather dated in the sense of the clothing worn by Rembrandt within as well as the darker muted palette often seen in historic paintings.

I think this piece is very subtle and creates a sense of humility of the artist. I see a modest gentleman in a very calm moment. By looking at the eyes and the position of the mouth, I am drawn to wondering whether Rembrandt was somewhat unhappy in this moment as he looks slightly subdued and down.

Whilst I do not see much of a connection to my own work, I do like the way Rembrandt has used one a small number of colours and the many hues within these colours, as well as his use of light and darkness to emphasise the areas of the piece he wants the viewer’s eyes to be drawn to. Whilst I know my tutor feels my work with colour needs much improvement, I do think pieces like this offer a great opportunity to dissect the piece and see the colours used and how they were used in such a clever way.

Sketchbook Dissection

Van Gogh (1853 to 1890)

Fig. 2. Van Gogh, V Self-Portrait (1889)

Considering my earlier comment regarding not enjoying lighter and happier pieces, I am actually rather drawn to this piece of van Gogh due to his story, the swirls used in his application but also due to his fantastic use of a limited palette. Considering the whole piece appears blue, van Gogh has very cleverly included a more orange colouring in a muted way to represent his auburn hair and beard. It seems somewhat strange to me just how these colours work so well together. I think it is perhaps because van Gogh has not only usd the orange shade, but also used touches of green and also the blue hues for the flesh and within the beard. Again, colour is not my strength, but this offers a fantastic opportunity to dissect the piece within my sketchbook to try and understand this colour concept better. I definitely have a long way with understanding the application of colour, but I find this piece a great reference point to come back to when coming back to colour in my future units.

Lieu (21st Century)

Fig. 3. Lieu, C Self-Portrait No. 32 (2012)

Moving forward in time, I came across this piece which I was instantly drawn to due to the almost solitary use of tonal patches to create the final piece. All sections appear to just be differing variations of pressure to create the different features. The lighting is clearly from the upper left-hand side of the page and highlights only certain areas, bringing the depth and shape to the piece.

I have found that during the creation of my pieces in earlier exercises, using tone as opposed to line has really worked in my favour and helps me create a more realistic piece, so this piece is a fantastic reference point for when I create my final piece within this Part of the course and is definitely something I would like to channel in my own work.

Sketchbook Dissection

I really like the techniques used in this piece, but definitely struggled with replicating the hands. I also rather enjoy the solid contrasts between sections of the piece and the heavy-handedness used by the artist. This very much resonates with my own techniques.

Auerbach (1931 to Present)

Fig. 4. Auerbach, F Self-Portrait II (2013)

Sketchbook Dissection

Whilst I am not extremely fond of this piece, I found it interesting due to the different pressures used to show different areas. I also really admire the fact that the lines do not appear to mean anything when viewed independently, however, they do come together as a whole to show the overall image of the artist. The lack of a solid outline and the presence of a very broken one resonates with me too and reminds me of my tremor. I wonder whether this artists has a similar issue and has reflected this in the piece?

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Rembrandt (1669) Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 [oil on canvas] At: (Accessed on 9 August 2019)

Fig. 2. Van Gogh, V (1889) Self-Portrait [oil on canvas] At: (Accessed on 9 August 2019)

Fig. 3. Lieu, C Self-Portrait No.32 (2012) [etching ink and lithographic crayon on Dura-Lar] At: (Accessed on 21 August 2019)

Fig. 4. Auerbach, F (2013) Self-Portrait II [unknown] At: (Accessed on 21 August 2019)


My Modern Met (2017) ‘Iconic Artists who have Immortalised Themselves through Famous Self-Portraits’ [online] At: (Accessed on 12 August 2019)

Van Gogh Museum (Unknown) [Online] At: (Accessed on 12 August 2019)

Wikipedia (2019) ‘Self-Portrait’ [Online] At: (Accessed on 12 August 2019)

2 thoughts on “Research Point: Self-Portraits throughout History

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