Intriguing self-portraits by famous artists

Examples of classic self-portraits where the author can be clearly identified are well known. Self-portraits of this type could tell us a lot about the author’s painting style and technique, and sometimes even about the era in which the author lived and worked.

Master of self-portraits Albrecht Dürer 1500, Self-Portrait at the Age of Twenty Eight


Pablo Picasso Autoportrait à la palette (Self-Portrait with a Palette)


Tamara Lempicka Self-portrait in Green Bugatti


However, some artists have chosen to show themselves in a controversial or riveting manner. The goal of such self-expression through self-portrait was to express hidden suffer, emotions and personal life events, convey the life-style manner, or to bring a viewer deeper into the mystery of their painting style and ideas.

The Two Fridas

Frida Kahlo (Mexico city 1907 – Mexico city 1953) was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico.

Her greatest painting “The Two Fidas” was created during a period of deep instability and dramatic circumstances (1939) when her career attained a success, but at the same time her personal life was falling apart.

In “The Two Fridas” a double self-portrait – the darker skin woman on the right s indigenous Mexican woman that was adored by her husband; and a light skin Frida on the left is the European Frida that he rejected. The painting “showed the Frida Diego loved, and the one he didn’t”. In 1947 “The Two Fridas” was acquired by the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico city (1, 2).

Hand with Reflecting Sphere

Maurits Cornelis Escher (Leeuwarden 1898 – Hilversum 1972) was one of the world’s most famous graphic artists from Netherlands. His work features mathematical objects and operations including impossible objects, explorations of infinity, reflection, symmetry, perspective, and hyperbolic geometry.

“Hand with Reflecting Sphere” by M. C. Escher. Lithograph, 1935, is also known as “Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror”.

Self-portraits in reflective, spherical surfaces are common in Escher’s work (3).

fair use. source:

At the Moulin Rouge

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Albi 1864 – Château Malromé, Saint-André-du-Bois 1901) was a French painter, printmaker, draftsman, and illustrator, whose immersion in the decadent and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century yielded an oeuvre of provocative, enticing and elegant images of those times.

In the scene of the famous in those days cabaret club Moulin Rouge, Toulouse-Lautrec depicts a group of people he knows, them spending adventurous time. We see the artist himself in the background – the short figure walking with a very tall man with a top hat.

They both pass by and look straight as if having some business elsewhere and neither the dancing ladies nor the cheerful company are attracting their attention, even though they know each other. Who knows, maybe excessive modesty and perception of the obvious deficiency of his physical body* does not allow the author to engage in the fun of the company, as if he was a little different and disapproved? He decides not to disturb the comfort of relaxed people.

* His parents were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions. Due to genetic disorders, Toulouse-Lautrec had an adult-sized torso, while retaining his child-sized legs. That is why physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art (4).

At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. Image from The Art Institute of Chicago®

Prisoners’ Round

Vincent van Gogh (Zundert 1853 – Auvers-sur-Oise 1890) was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who became one of the most influential and famous artist in the history of Western art.

Like Toulouse-Lautrec, one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits reflects the painter’s inner sense of being among people and within himself, it can be called a self-portrait of emotional experiences.

Prisoners’ Round (after Gustave Doré), painted in 1890, just a few months before Van Gogh shot himself in July 1890, depicts a group of prisoners walking in a circle around a claustrophobic prison yard. One prisoner has turned his head to look out at the viewer, and this man may resemble Vincent. The scene recalls Van Gogh’s own detention, and his psychological isolation (5).

The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202.

Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marquess of Dalí de Púbol gcYC (Figueres 1904 – Figueres 1989) was a Spanish surrealist artist.

Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon. A slice of fried bacon, a symbol of organic matter and of the everyday nature of his breakfasts in New York’s hotel. Dalí argued the most consistent thing of our representation is not the spirit or the vitality, but the skin (6).

Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror

Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (Parma 1503 – Casalmaggiore 1540), also known as Francesco Mazzola or, more commonly, as Parmigianino (“the little one from Parma”), was an Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker.

“Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror”, age about 21. Parmigianino had explored spherical geometry and reflection a few centuries before Maurits Esher (3).

Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Artemisia Gentileschi (Rome 1593 – Naples 1653) was an Italian painter, one of the most important artists of the Baroque period. She was a rare professional woman artist in the 1600s. She was highly regarded by her contemporaries, with work being commissioned by grand dukes, duchess and kings of her era.

In her self-portraits she depicted herself as a painter “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting”, female martyr “Self Portrait as a Female Martyr”, aristocrat “Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria” and a female performing a justice “Judith beheading Holofernes”, a Biblical story which, however, was shrouded in personal drama when she was raped at the age of 17 by artist Agostino Tassi, a close friend of her father (7, 8).

Self-Portrait, 1980

Alice Hartley Neel (Gladwyne 1900 – New York 1984) was an American visual artist who was known for her portraits depicting friends, family, lovers, poets, artists, and strangers, very often in nude poses. Her work became a visual documentary of her era.

Self-Portrait, 1980. After breaking the taboo of painting pregnant mums-to-be, Alice broke the taboo of painting old women with her self-portrait at the age of 80 (9).

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960

Norman Percevel Rockwell (New York 1894 – Stockbridge 1978) was an American painter and illustrator.

Triple Self-Portrait (10). The picture is hilarious, rhythmic and depicting a creative chaos-in-order, where each detail is important and in its place. We see four self-portraits, attached to the canvas of the painter:  Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh, those are his references.

The idea of Rockwell’s self-portrait clearly shows him as a man with a sense of humor and professional illustrator.


  1. Frida Kahlo’s “The Two Fridas”: Great Art Explained,

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