Rembrandt was master of the self-portrait, painting them frequently, from his The Artist in His Studio (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 1629) to Self-portrait at the Age of 63 (National Gallery from 1669), one of his last painted the year he died. Each is rich, each unique, each shows the variability and changes in one person.
One of my favourites is at Kenwood House, London (c1665). The artist is almost my age 60 and holds the tools of his trade. Rembrandt has lost all his money, two circles begin the background, and he is staring at you the viewer, not intently but seriously. It’s as if he knows this painting has all the time in the world.
Most painters get around to the self portrait: Van Eyck (his Portrait of a Man in a Turban of 1433 may be the earliest extant), Durer , Artemesia Gentileschi, Velazquez, Angelica Kauffman, Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon, Chuck Close and Sidney Nolan – to name a few. In Ostend many years ago I saw a show of james Ensor and was amazed by his sl;ef portraits. Julia Krum writes, ‘Just consider his self-portraits. Within the span of five years in the late 1880s he depicted himself as a cross-dressed dandy, a rotting corpse, a bug, a fish, Albrecht Durer and a crucified Jesus.’[i]