Before there was Instagram, before there was Snapchat, and before the words 'profile pic' were ever uttered, there were self-portraits. No filters, no hashtags, and no likes, follows, or comments. No bedroom eyes or duck faces, and absolutely no bathroom mirrors. There was paper or canvas, and there was pen, paint, pencil and ink. There were personal touches, exaggerated flaws, and comedic inscriptions. There was art � good and not so good � and there was self-expression.
A fleeting Snapchat shot will certainly never be coveted by collectors decades after the click and the flash � that would defeat the very purpose of the smartphone app. Modern day self-portraits, if we can call them that, will be lost on far away servers to live out the rest of their digital days in the deepest, darkest corners of the internet, never to be seen again. It's the cartoon scrawled on a scrap piece of paper or the pencil sketch done in the attic of an artist's cottage that will stand the test of time, perhaps one day selling for top dollar.
Bookseller Burt Britton's selfie collection began before the invention of smartphones when the then-bartender placed a napkin in front of Norman Mailer and demanded a self-portrait. Maybe Britton was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut, who sketched his own face each time he signed a book. Britton collected hundreds of portraits over the years, and in the '70s he assembled them for a book, Self-Portrait: Book People Picture Themselves. His collection of over 500 self-portraits by characters ranging from Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Herbie Hancock was auctioned off in 2009. A few can be found on AbeBooks.
From Mark Twain and Charles Bukowski to Max Liebermann and Thomas Nast, shut off your social media for a moment and browse this impressive selection of self-portraits that date back to a time long before selfies as we know them existed.
Vonnegut is well known for his signature self-portraits, but this one is a portrait of Kilgore Trout, a fictional character critics believed to be Vonnegut's alter ego.
British cartoonist Ralph Steadman is best known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson. This portrait is titled, 'As I See Myself'.
One of 50 etched copper plates that were prepared by the author for each of his guests at his 67th birthday party held at the Metropolitan Club in 1902.
The prolific illustrator of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books calls this caricature self-portrait 'Little Breeches'.
This portrait shows the artist seated at work. Klinger was one of the most influencial German artists of the 19th century.
A self-portrait by the prominent surrealist painter.
Author, journalist and civil rights activist Jessica Mitford drew her self-portrait at the request of collector Burt Britton.
Another portrait at the request of Burt Britton. The American writer's sketch is inscribed, 'Up the republic!'
A 1983 limited edition of Bukowski's short story collection Hot Water Music includes this abstract oil self-portrait.
Inscribed, 'For Burt', here's yet another portrait done for Burt Britton. Yates is best known for his novel Revolutionary Road.
Dubbed the 'Father of American Cartoon', Nast was one of the first artists to define the modern image of Santa Claus. His depiction appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1863.
The famous German Impressionist as he saw himself.