Reference Bell, Julian 500 Self-Portraits

ISBN 13: 9780714839592

500 Self-Portraits

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9780714839592: 500 Self-Portraits

'The mirror, above all - the mirror is our teacher', wrote Leonardo da Vinci. Portraits are an endless source of fascination, responding as they do to the basic human impulse to scrutinize a face and strive to peer into the person behind it. Self-portraits have the added fascination that comes from looking into the mirror and trying to study one's own face and the elusive self lurking behind its surface. This striking and sensitive compilation presents an uninterrupted sequence of 500 self-portraits, in chronological order, all the way from ancient Egypt to the late twentieth century and including painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. The challenge of interpreting and re-creating their own likenesses has proven irresistible to artists throughout the ages. Included here are powerfully evocative works by many of the world's greatest painters and sculptors, from Durer and Rembrandt to Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol. Each image is both a work of art and a rigorous exploration in psychology and self-perception: a concept brought to life even by the book's mirrored jacket, on whose surface the reader's own face becomes the 501st self-portrait. Presented without commentary, these works speak for themselves: a compelling collection for every student of art and human nature. The illuminating introduction is by the renowned painter and writer Julian Bell.

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Review:

Pensive, haughty, scruffy, scowling, clowning, vamping--artists have always reveled in the inventive freedom of portraying themselves. Younger painters lacking paying sitters often made good use of a mirror and a talent for making faces. Older painters--most famously, Rembrandt--searched beneath their own sagging flesh for the essence of a survivor.

Beginning with its reflective book jacket, which playfully inducts the reader into the ranks of self-portraitists, Five Hundred Self-Portraits is a delight for browsers. Works by famous and obscure artists from the Middle Ages to our own times are organized chronologically, one per page, in this compact volume. The early images demonstrate how self-portraiture evolved from walk-ons (the artist as a bystander in a Nativity scene, say) and occasional co-starring roles (the artist as St. Luke, drawing the Virgin Mary) to full-fledged personal appearances by the likes of Dürer and Leonardo.

More than half of the images in the book were painted (or drawn or etched or photographed) during the 19th and 20th centuries. The stiff decorum of earlier periods gave way to a romantic introspection that evolved into neurotic self-absorption and frank exhibitionism. From Gustave Courbet, posing languorously with eyes closed and blood-spotted collar as The Wounded Man, to Jenny Saville, gripping a thick roll of fat on her graffiti-scrawled nude body, artists of the past 150 years have developed a repertory of dramatic strategies for self-display. But few are as quietly effective as 18th-century painter Joshua Reynolds. He peers out at us, one hand shading his eyes, as if dazzled by the blaze of his own genius. --Cathy Curtis

About the Author:

Julian Bell, grandson of the British artist Vanessa Bell, is a painter and writer. He is the author of Bonnard (1994) in Phaidon's colour library series and What is Painting? Representation and Modern Art (1999), and a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters and the Guardian.

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