Self-Portraits By Master Artists

Oil on canvas  Self Portrait in a Straw Hat
 National Gallery, Central London 

Art is an inner thing. It is a thing of the heart. If you have a heart pulsating with emotion and passion, then you can take the art-route. Can art be taught? Or can it be learnt? Sure. We can learn any art by persuasion and commitment. For that one has to know the fundamentals of the art. That art may be painting, drawing or any other form of art. 

Look at the self-portrait given here. Self Portrait in a Straw Hat is painted by the master artist Elisabeth Louise Vigee le Brun. The portrait painting done by this artist was sold for $7.2 Million at Sotheby, in the year 2019. It was a portrait of one gentleman named Mohammed Dervish Khan. This sale of the portrait by this artist had set a world record for women artists who lived before 1900. We will also discuss how the portraits are drawn and painted. And how the master artists make their self-portraits. 

Self-Portrait Rembrandt
[This portrait was sold for $18.7 million
at Sotheby London  ]

Let us discuss how the master artists paint their self-portraits. So, what can be the fundamentals of the art of painting or drawing a self-portrait? In fact, there is no much difference between painting in general and painting a portrait. Except in portrait painting, a small mistake can ruin relations between the artist and the person whose portrait is being made. 

Artists Making Self Portraits:    The art of portrait making is as old as the human endeavour for putting the inner thoughts into the outer world. There are some artists who have mastered the art of portrait making. We will study here some of the self-portraits done by the master artists.  Look at this self-portrait by the master artists Rembrandt. It was sold for a record price of $18.7 Million at Sotheby, London. Rembrandt had painted several self-portraits. This is the portrait that had fetched the highest price at auction.

The Artist in his Studio Rembrandt
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Look at another self-portrait by the same artist. Here the artist is shown with his work-in-progress. This painting is titled as Artists in His Studio, showing Rembrandt himself standing at a distance from his painting. Starting from the bright colour area of the floor; our eyes move from the frame of the painting to the artist. The relative sizes of the painting and Rembrandt’s figure radiate one message like most of the paintings done by the master artists do. Here the message is that the art is always bigger than the artists. Rembrandt was known for making a compassionate leap of imagination in showing the thoughtful privacy of the models. Here he himself was model.

Vincent van Gogh,

Vincent Van Gogh:  It is a great experience to look at master artists’ work. And when the artist is none other than Van Gogh, it is much pleasure. It is a pleasure to follow the basics of drawing and painting the master artists apply to do their masterpieces.  We can have the treasure of their knowledge applied to our experience of the art. But to copy a style of painting or drawing of one of these great artists would not be a great idea, forever. Instead, we should develop our own style. And it is not so difficult. What we need to so is constant practice drawing. Your painting or drawing need not be similar to the artwork of artists like Picasso or Renoir; your colours may not be skillfully placed on canvas as Van Gogh did. But you have your own calibre and instinct. Follow that instinct. Your style would be as unique as your handwriting.                 

Albrecht Dürer
Self Portrait at the age of 13

Albrecht Durer: Do you know what the best way to improve your drawing is? Many of you would say that “keep practising”. That is true. But keep practising to draw from life. Live subjects mean whatever you see in front of your eyes.

Look at an object that is nearest to you or the thing that is available to you at any time. Use your eyes well, neatly, and catch the image into your mind.       

Thereafter try transferring the image that you have stored in your mind. The live object would help you to correct whenever any deviation is there in drawing the actual shape. After the visual art is a matter of observing and reproducing the vision onto paper or a canvas.

Here the artist Dure has captured the movement of his fingers in his self-portrait. So for a budding artist, it would be a great lesson to learn from the works of the master artists. Once you have marked the shapes and size of the model, it would be easier to think about the further factors like the falling of light and the placement of the shadows. Here the master painter Albrecht Durer had infused the feel of the light falling on the clothes of the model. The face is shown as having lesser light than the clothes. That has created a magical effect enhancing the overall effect of the painting.

Gentile Bellini

Gentile Bellini: While doing a pencil drawing one must be aware of any fundamental mistakes like the wrong measurement of the size of the model. This applies to the portrait drawing. When you are working under a commission wherein you are required to draw or paint the portrait of a person, a slight variation would ruin your entire work. 

Here in this self-portrait, artist Bellini had demonstrated the important aspects of the portrait drawing. Look at the overall size of the different limbs on the fae of the artist. He had left no room for any deviation from reality, and that had resulted in a masterpiece like this self-portrait.

There can be different types of smaller variations in portrait making. A slightly bigger eye or a lip, thicker than the original one, could displease the person being portrayed. In portrait drawing, there is plenty of room for artistic imagination, but you will have to honour reality first.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Pieter Brueghel the Elder: Bruegel (1525 – 1559) was a Renaissance painter who lived and worked in the Netherland. He did marvellous landscapes but was known for his peasant scene, the genre paintings. He tried depicting the daily activities of the common people: the labourers, the artisans, blacksmith, wordsmith, shoemaker and all.

Here the master artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder had wonderfully completed his self-portrait. Look at the facial expression of the artist himself, and look at the person who is standing just behind the artist. Recreating the facial expression in the portrait makes the art piece a memorable one.

Here is a self-portrait of Pieter Brueghel the Elder He is the pioneer of the 'Genre Painting' Movement, making the art of painting the art of common people instead of the royal men and women. He painted men and women working in their homes, in their farms, and doing their daily life-works. 

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo             As the writers are caught in the situation called ‘The Writer’s block’; the painters, too, sometimes feel themselves in such a scenario. If you are an artist, the time will happen when you would feel going out of subjects to paints. 

When you feel yourself going out of subjects, just look around you and feel free to draw anything you can see in the immediate vicinity. You can see a washerwoman, a newspaper boy, your neighbouring lady or your spouse; if you are habituated to draw the figures. And still, if you fail, just sit in front of the big mirror in your bedroom. Start drawing yourself. The self-portrait is an art of exploring the self. Almost all the great artists have tried their self-portraits.

Look at this self-portrait. See how the artist has taken care of the smallest details of his own face. This is a very important aspect to be remembered especially when we are doing a portrait. May it be a self-portrait or the portrait of another person.  The portrait making of self makes you face a totally different set of difficulties. But it can be a pleasant affair.[All the paintings are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commoms] 

Whenever you get a chance to see or hear any interview given by a renowned artist, just concentrate on what he reveals about his own experiences while executing his or her work. It would be much helpful if we carefully note how he or she had climbed the steps of the ladder. And one thing is certain that they must have done much labour to be there where they are. And while you ask for any great tip for the new entrants in the field of arts, these artists would tell you three words. And these three words would be “Practice, Practice, and Practice”. Only the constant following of the passion for drawing and painting would make you an artist. 


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