The Model in the Mirror

“I loathe my own face, and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nobody else to do.”

-Francis Bacon

Well Francis, you could have sprung for model’s fees and hired some pros to pose for you. Ever considered that? Huh? Huuh??? Models have to eat too, you know.

The big Bacon exhibit at the Met closes today, so I thought I’d use his quote both in tribute and as a way to introduce my post on self-portraits. Prevalent throughout art history, self-portraiture is a uniquely revealing genre, and some of the most widely-recognized paintings in history have been artists’ self-portraits. With so much subject matter at their disposal – from street scenes to landscapes to still lifes to dance halls – what motivates artists to paint their own portraits? Well lets be frank and consider the personality traits common to artist psychology. Narcissism and self-absorption are strong contenders. Sorry but it’s true. Or it can be explained by an innocent and sincere desire for self-examination. Or it could be something far less complex, the simple issue of access. The “model” is there ready to go, 24/7. And don’t forget, the price is right. Cheapskates!! πŸ˜†

Let’s begin our self-portrait tour with the great master himself, Rembrandt:


Edgar Degas:

Degas, Self Portrait in Soft Hat 1857f

Caravaggio. Yikes!


James McNeill Whistler:


I give Van Gogh a pass on the not hiring models issue since he was so completely broke throughout his lifetime, and he did a ton of self-portraits to prove it. With so many to choose from, I think this is one of his best:


Here’s a guy who had ample access to models, whether professionals or intimate companions. Yet he still painted plenty of self-portraits. EGO!! This is Picasso:


Pierre Bonnard:


Andy Warhol:


One of the most famous of all self-portraits, you’ve surely seen this one before. Self-portrait by Matisse:


Leonardo da Vinci:


I saw this Courbet self-portrait in person at the Met last summer and I assure you it was a genuinely terrifying experience. What an attention-hungry drama queen this guy was. Look at him. What a jerk!


Paul Cezanne:




We conclude full-circle with our quote man Francis Bacon and the face he claimed to loathe. But he need not feel dismayed. Damien Hirst bought this Bacon self-portrait for $33 million dollars in 2007. I guess sometimes self-loathing has its advantages!


Let’s have some fun with these and use comments to state our favorites. The artists have put themselves out there, right? They’re just asking to be scrutinized. As an art model I enjoy seeing the tables turned. Sit still fellas! Stop moving!! Stop fidgeting!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!!

23 thoughts on “The Model in the Mirror

  1. fredh1 says:

    Most of those are excellent. The Degas stands out for me, if I have to pick just one.

    I like the Courbet. It is hilarious, but you have to admit it’s painted with a great deal of gusto and skill. Since both hands appear in the picture, perhaps he wielded the paintbrush with some other bodily appendage!

    Why all male artists? Alice Neel, Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt and Leonora Carrington all did great self portraits.

    • artmodel says:


      About the female artists, I wanted to include some and thanks for pointing that out. I feel badly about the omission but here’s what happened. With Frida, I have already posted two or three of her self-portraits on Museworthy and I try to avoid repetition if possible. I considered Cassatt’s self-portrait but I honestly wasn’t too crazy about the ones I found in my search. Neel and Carrington are great suggestions and I just didn’t think of them. But I appreciate your acknowledgment for the ladies! You’re a good man, Fred Hatt πŸ™‚

      I very reluctantly concede your observations about the Courbet. Yes, it is painted with a lot of “gusto and skill”. Too bad the jerk factor is so overpowering!

      The Degas is a definite standout. There’s something very interesting going on in that one.

      Thanks Fred!


  2. Stephanie says:

    This post is a lot of fun, but it’s hard to pick a favorite. I have to go with Degas also. And Bonnard looks cute. The Caravaggio is a creepfest.

    As for the Courbet, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp in any number of roles. And your description of the Courbet, bears an uncanny resemblance to my recent descriptions of Johnny Depp.

    • artmodel says:


      I’m loving “creepfest”! Too funny. Caravaggio was an odd guy for sure, which I suppose makes his self-portrait particularly authentic. That’s one way of looking at it!

      You echo both mine and Fred’s opinion of the Degas. It’s really excellent. Also, I’ve always been impressed with the Matisse. He’s looking intimately at himself there I think.

      I never noticed the Courbet resemblance to Johnny Depp! Oh my god, you’re right! Let’s hope they don’t discover a long lost Courbet self-portrait dressed in full pirate garb!

      Thanks for your comments Steph πŸ™‚


  3. ColdSilverMoon says:

    I like the Caravaggio! He’s one ugly dude, but I like the opulent setting – reminds me of a lot of his other paintings for which he actually used models. If were an artist, I don’t think I could paint/draw myself – there are so many other interesting faces and bodies out there other than what I see in the mirror every day!

    Another self-portrait is my favorite, William Bouguereau. It’s very Bouguereau-esque – very stylized and finished, and I heard an art teacher call it “sentimental and sweet.”

  4. dougrogers says:

    I think the Degas.

    Yeah, the Courbet is over the top. Virtuoso for sure, and he knows it. I do like the Rapheal too, The Bonnard and the Van Gogh seem to be as much about the technique – faultless for sure – as the image.

    • artmodel says:

      Yay, doug!!!! My darling!!!!! I’ve missed you!!!!!!!!!!! πŸ™‚

      Another vote for Degas. Looks like he’s gonna take the prize.
      I’m glad you agree with me about the Courbet. I can’t even look at it for very long. It pisses me off. And yes, the Raphael deserves a mention. Beautifully done by a Renaissance master.

      Thanks doug!


  5. Brian says:

    Is it just me, or does the Caravaggio portrait look like Chris Kattan playing “Mango” on SNL (down to the fruit!).

  6. fred says:

    Nobody’s picked the Rembrandt yet. Probably the only one of the batch that’s entirely honest, not idealized or glamorized in any way. And beautifully painted.

    Also, did you notice that Degas is Raphael’s face with Bonnard’s facial hair?

    • ColdSilverMoon says:

      Good point, Fred, the Rembrandt is the most honest and least idealized. And as most Rembrandt paintings, it is wonderfully painted. The Raphael is very simple and honest as well – very unlike some of his other paintings, including La Fornarina.

    • artmodel says:


      Your eye never ceases to amaze me. What a great observation about the Degas/Raphael/Bonnard connection! Cool.

      I agree with you about the Rembrandt. I’ve studied it several times, and the skill is beyond impressive. It is totally honest, and generally Rembrandt isn’t known to play games in his art.

      No one cares about the Whistler. Or the Warhol, which I actually think is quite good for what it is.


    • dougrogers says:

      Yes, of course the Rembrandt is pretty good πŸ™‚ I’ve been thinking recently about my need for novelty thouugh… and Rembrandt just doesn’t seem as fresh as he once was… πŸ™‚

  7. Lori Gordon says:

    I love the Cezanne, just for the simple fact that I think the colors are pretty! How shallow. πŸ˜‰

    Anyway, the Caravaggio one is funny, as the guy was an absolute bully in real life. In fights all of the time on the streets. Indigent. Scrappy. He was also on a relative permanent retainer by the church,and he couldn’t stand the fact that he had to paint such pious stuff. Often he’d paint prostitutes’ faces as Mary, and street beggars faces as Jesus/apostles in his paintings.

    I think Caravaggio is doing exactly this here: having the last laugh — painting himself (the guy with the bad morals) into an angelic piece, assumedly commissioned by the church. Somehow I don’t think he was painting this piece to repent. πŸ˜‰

  8. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for a most interesting selection of self-portraits. Fascinating to see the artists’ individual styles reflecting but changing the human face.

    Hope the heat is bearable in NY at the moment!

    • artmodel says:


      Unfortunately the heat is unbearable at the moment. Ugh! But we’re trying to cope as best we can.

      Glad you enjoyed this self-portrait selection. I tried to choose a good variety that represented, like you said, individual styles. But there are so many out there. I may have to do a Part 2!

      Thanks for commenting.


  9. K L says:

    Of the paintings presented I have to choose the Van Gogh. As someone who tries to paint is all about the eyes and these reach right out and grab you. They are very intense and fit so well into the whole color scheme. The psychology behind self portraits? I don’t know..I’ve only done three, one when I was seventeen. The second one I started in 04 and can’t finish because every time I look at it I just about piss my pants from laughing so hard. The third was done the first of this month and totally mystifies me. I would hire a model if she would take payment in cans of beanie wienies for that is all I have..I’m starving to death. God I hope no one reads this.

    • artmodel says:


      I like the Van Gogh too. It’s lesser known than some of his others, but beautifully done. And yes those eyes are intense!

      I’m sorry that you’re starving to death πŸ˜₯ But it puts you in the same boat as Van Gogh himself. You said you’ve tried three times, but it sounds to me like you have a great self-portrait in you just ready to burst out. But no laughing!


  10. fredh1 says:

    Apparently Caravaggio did the self-portrait as Bacchus, god of wine, at the age of 16. His last self-portrait shows him as the severed head of Goliath, being held by the hair by a young David.

    I think Courbet only wished he could be as dramatic as Caravaggio was for real!

    • artmodel says:


      I think I posted the Goliath severed head painting in my Caravaggio entry. Pretty gruesome!

      You’ve basically called out Courbet for being a poser, and I like it!! πŸ˜†


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