Your Space: Portraits

November 1, 2014 - March 7, 2015

For much of history, only those of high social rank and affluence could afford to commission artists to create their portraits. But artists themselves have been creating self-portraits regularly since the Renaissance period, when mirrors became common and affordable to many.

Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn are among the many artists who painted themselves periodically throughout their lives. Between 1886 and 1889 Vincent van Gogh painted himself thirty-seven times. His self-portraits, like those of early-twentieth-century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who painted fifty-five self-portraits, read like an open diary—a visual record of life’s passions and struggles.

Self-portraits take many forms besides the typical composition of the subject facing the viewer. The artist may represent herself in disguise, as Cindy Sherman does in her well-known photographic self-portraits. The artist may be absent from the self-portrait altogether, except as a reflection in a shiny object, such as in M. C. Escher’s 1935 lithograph Hand with Reflecting Sphere; or he may be present in an unconventional way, as in Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas of 1656, in which the artist gazes at the viewer from his position amidst the royal family he is painting.

To accompany the exhibit Portraits, Expanded, the museum’s Mary Sommer Room has been transformed into an art studio, where visitors of all ages may create self-portraits. Inspired by Kate Gridley’s figural paintings of young people, we have installed full-length mirrors and easels for those who wish to create large self-portraits. A seating area and table are available for those who prefer to concentrate on faces or close-ups of features.

— Susan Calabria, Education Curator