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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Humorous Self-portraits

A Desperate Man, 1846, Gustave Courbet--been there, done that.
Norman Rockwell's rather impish
self-portrait. We're left wondering
if he purposely left it unfinished.
I love an artist with a sense of humor. Actually, most artist have one, though often they take their art so seriously that they're reluctant to display it. Also, most artists have, at one time or another, painted or drawn at least one self-portrait. Never is an artist more revealing of their own self-image that when these two elements meet--when an artist is blessed with sufficient self-confidence to create a funny, often self-deprecating self-portrait. I've done one or two, which I won't display here in that I've already shown them in earlier posts. A quick review of the Internet reveals that their are literally thousands of very clever, often quite humorous artist self-portraits, though most of them are by "artists" of whom nobody has ever heard, so despite their humor...who cares. On the other side of the coin, there are also literally thousands of self-portraits by famous artists (Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Warhol nearly made a career of them). However, the vast, vast majority of them are decidedly unfunny.

Leopold Boilly Self-portrait
(detail from a group portrait).
Surprise, Leopold Boilly.
(Oh, my goodness.)

Andy Warhol Self-portrait, 1977

Then there are artists such as Leopold Boilly who seems to have delighted in drawing his funny face from a mirror (above). He's hilarious. Rembrandt did two or three rather humorous self-depictions (below). Warhol's variety (right) were, I think sometimes meant to be very serious, but were, inadvertently funny because he was trying to be so serious. Norman Rockwell had such a sense of humor that it, in one way or another, permeated, nearly everything he did. His unfinished self-portrait (top, left) seems to suggest that he considered himself a "work in progress." Ain't we all.
Rembrandt Self-portrait, 1629
Rembrandt Self-portrait (etching), 1630

Damned Soul, 1619,
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
David, 1623-24,
Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The famous Baroque sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini painted dozens of self-portraits, most of them of the decidedly unfunny variety mentioned earlier. However artists have long realized that the best and most convenient model for facial expressions (especially the unusual sort) is, in fact, themselves with the aid of a mirror. Rockwell's most famous self-portrait demonstrates this. Bernini used his own grimacing face as a model in sculpting two of this most famous works, his Damned Soul (above, right), and the determined look of intense concentration on the face of his David (above, left). Taken out of context, both are quite amusing, especially in that such "funny looks" are exceedingly rare in sculpture. It's said that Bernini deliberately burned his hand to elicit, if only for an instant, the look of desperate horror on the face of his Damned Soul. His David expression was presumably less painful.

Joshua Reynolds, Self-portrait, 1748, before the "Sir" was added.
Caravaggio as a Sick
Bacchus, 1594

In the less intense, "somewhat amusing" category, Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) paints himself as a very young (almost childlike) man shading his eyes in a charmingly honest depiction reminiscent of some of Rembrandt's serious and "not-so-serious" self-portraits. Also painting himself as a young dude, Caravaggio simply uses his face as a convenient model dressed as a "sick" Bacchus (1594), a role he probably knew well. This undoubtedly made for something of an inside joke--one his close friends must have found LOL funny.
Premonition, 1972, Salvador Dali. Intentional or inadvertent humor.
Big Self-portrait, 1968, Chuck Close
Salvador Dali had a rather dry sense of humor and seemed especially enamored with those self-images he created which emphasized his deliberately ridiculous little handlebar moustache. However, his Premonition (above) from 1972 also contains a self-portrait (upper left area) that, while probably not intended to be funny, turns out to be. Chuck Close's incredibly unflattering self-portrait with it's drooping cigarette he amusingly titled Big Self-portrait. Like many such self-portraits, it makes one at least smile, if not laugh outright. However, the grand prize I think for humorous self-portraits has to go to Gustave Courbet for his Desperate Man (top) from 1848. I know the feeling well, and I'm sure most other artists do too.

(A close second place in the funny self-portrait category goes to the French artist, Joseph Ducreux as seen below).
Joseph Ducreux Self-portrait, 1793. I've never heard of the artist,
never seen his work. I don't know the man, but I have the feeling I'd have like to.

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