It’s not surprising artists paint self-portraits. The subject is readily available, generally won’t complain about how much time it’s taking and is willing to follow along with crazy ideas. The results are interesting. Sometimes, when painters and photographers turn the canvas on themselves, the outcome is profound. How does one judge the difference?
Let’s consider this painting by Andrew Wyeth. Known for his broodingly melancholy watercolors and tempera paintings of the landscape and people of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and Cushing, Maine, Andrew Newell Wyeth was one of my earliest painterly loves. This image is a self-portrait he painted from 1949. He calls it “Revenant.” Wyeth has explained the picture this way: “It was painted in the Olson house. I had been out sailing. Coming into the room with my eyes full of sun and sea, I was startled by the apparition of myself in a dusty mirror in an unused room. That is the picture.”
“The son of the famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth, Andrew achieved national recognition in 1940, when at the age of twenty-three he became the youngest member ever elected to the American Watercolor Society. Around 1940 Wyeth began painting in the early Renaissance medium of egg tempera, which was popularized by Wyeth, George Tooker, Jared French, and other American realists who painted disquieting, sometimes surrealistic scenes evoking the spiritual malaise and uncertainty of the era. Throughout his career, Wyeth’s reputation has centered around paintings such as Christina’s World (1948; Museum of Modern Art) which pair a startlingly realistic, detailed technique and seemingly straightforward subjects with a vaguely unsettling and enigmatic aura.”*
For a .pdf of a Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Exhibition Catalog go here:
* taken from The New Britain Museum of American Art’s website. It is an excerpt from an essay by Margaret Stenz, written for the museum’s collection catalog.