Top 10 Self-Portraits

Salvation, self-scrutiny or vanity? Artists have long explored the self-portrait and the fascination we have with ourselves. They have much to say about the artists' view of themselves and a deeper glimpse into their soul. Us humans, since consciousness, have always questioned our existence, the meaning of our lives and our purpose.

But how true a reflection is a self-portrait? While certainly revealing, how objective can one be when it comes to such a subjective matter as yourself? Is it a true reflection of how we are, how others see us or how we want to be? 

"A person himself believes that all other portraits are good likenesses, except the one of himself" - Edvard Munch


One of the most influential British artists of the twentieth century, Hockney painted this self-portrait in his Hollywood Hills studio in 2007 without any photographic evidence or preparatory drawings. Hockney has completed 18 self-portraits during his career, from his first in 1954 to his most recent portraits starting in 2012 using the 'Brushes' app on the iPhone and iPad.

Self-Portrait with Charlie, 2007


An American photographer known for his controversial subject matter and classical black and white photography, Mapplethorpe has produced several nude portraits, self-portraits and still life photographs. This self-portrait portrays himself as a 'bad boy' with his black leather jacket and cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Mapplethorpe was keen to promote this image of himself as cool and impervious to emotion.

Self-Portrait, 1980

FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1954)

'I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone and because I am the person I know the best' - Frida Kahlo

Born in Mexico, Kahlo suffered lifelong health problems caused by a traffic accident when she was a teenager. Recovering from her injuries isolated her from others and this isolation influenced many of her works, especially her self-portraits which deal with her physical and psychological suffering as well as feelings of loss, infertility (she suffered two miscarriages), pain and alienation. This self-portrait was created around the time of Kahlo's divorce to Diego Rivera.

The Two Fridas, 1939

EDVARD MUNCH (1863-1944)

Norwegian painter Munch notoriously experienced mental suffering and anguish during his career as a painter. This revealing self-portrait, created the same year as his infamous 'The Scream' (1895), conspicuously emphasises the artist's face and hands making them seem almost luminous against the dark unknowing depths of the background. The artist is illuminated from below and together with the diffuse background and smoke from his cigarette,  this self-portrait reveals a certain air of mystery.

Self-Portrait with Cigarette, 1895

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Belgian painter Magritte forged a reputation for wit and whimsy, which is evident in this self-portrait - The man behind that floating apple is none other than Magritte (If you look closely, you can see his eyes peeking out between the apple and its leaves). 

'At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present' - Rene Magritte

The Son of Man, 1964

BRETT WHITELEY (1939-1992)

Awarded the prestigious Archibald Prize in 1976, Whiteley's 'Self-portrait in the studio' exudes a sense of sumptuous living and the liquid presence of the harbour through what he called 'the ecstasy-like effect of Ultramarine blue'. Whiteley's tiny mirror self-portrait also reflects a portrayal of man as merely part of a larger landscape. The painting also hints to a darker side, having created this painting at the height of his heroin addiction, this revealing self-portrait shows this interior of his 'cage' (his home he shared with his wife Wendy in Sydney's Lavender Bay) in which he fed his addiction and the window offers a possible escape into paradise, or more, an escape from one's psyche.

Self-Portrait in the Studio, 1976

VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890)

With a total of 39 self-portraits, Dutch painter Van Gogh often painted himself when he couldn't afford to pay for a model and to also develop his skills as an artist. Using himself as subject-matter, he was able to experiment with different poses, expressions, colours and styles, as well as an endless array of 'looks': with a pipe, with a hat, with a hat and pipe, and of course, with a bandaged ear!

Self-Portrait, 1889


Although not a traditional self-portrait, Spanish painter Velazquez's 'Las Meninas' created a truly genre-bending masterpiece. Commissioned as a Royal Portrait for the King of Spain, the Queen of Hungary and their princess daughter Margarita, Velazquez included himself in the painting making it a self-portrait. He was the official Royal painter for the King at the time, so the family didn't mind at all...in fact they had the royal arms painted onto Velazquez's clothing in the painting posthumously. 

Las Meninas, 1656

PAUL GAUGUIN (1848-1903)

French painter Gauguin painted himself in the guise of Jean Valjean, the main character from Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables, equating the vibrant and loving fictional outcast with the misunderstood artists of his time. His good friend Van Gogh was impressed by the portrait's melancholy character. he described the shadows in Gauguin's face as 'lugubriously tinged with blue' and noted that he looked ill and tormented.

'By doing him with my features, you have my individual image, as well as a portrait of us all, poor victims of society, taking our revenge on it by doing good' - Paul Gauguin

Self-Portrait with portrait of Emile Bernard (Les miserables), 1888

Serial self-portraitist, Dutch painter Rembrandt created nearly 100 self-portraits during his career including approximately 50 paintings, 32 etching and 7 drawings, creating a visual diary of the artist over a span of forty years. 'By means of a wonderful ability to fix an idea in his mind, [Rembrandt] knew how to capture the momentary appearances of emotion whenever they appeared in the face before him' - Arnold Houbraken

Self-Portrait, 1661

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