20 Beautiful Self Portraits by Famous Artists

By Susan Dorling | 2020 Guide

What did Van Gough look like? We can all easily picture the solemn stare of a man with flame-like hair.

The most renowned painters are from a time when cameras did not exist, and without their self-portraits, we wouldn’t really know what they themselves looked like. Artists use their art to capture their surroundings and to showcase their feelings. And self-portraits help the viewer understand the artist at a personal level.

Beautiful Self Portraits By Famous Artists
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In this article, I have added 20 of the most beautiful self-portraits by famous artists. To know more about the paintings as well as the artists themselves, continue reading.

1. Frida Kahlo

Freida Kahlo is considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists, and she is popular for her revealing and brutal self-portraits. The Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is one of her most famous works, and it also contains many tokens of her work as well as her life.

Kahlo went on to make about 143 paintings in her life, and most of them were self-portraits. She stated that she painted herself often because she was the subject she knew most as she spent a lot of time alone. The famous painter was involved in an accident, and she taught herself to paint while she recovered. Soon painting became a safe haven for her.

This specific painting was created right after she got divorced; the thrones around her neck are believed to signify her pain during that time. Many art historians believe that the white frock hints at martyrdom, and the butterflies are thought to be the symbols of Kahlo’s own personal resurrection.

In Mexican culture, a hummingbird signifies good luck, and the black cat in the painting is ready to pounce on it. Many believe that Kahlo wishes to portray the wish of love in a dark time in her life.

Today much of Kahlo’s work, as well as this painting, is featured in a garden show “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.”

2. Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Burn was the favorite artist as well as the friend of Marie Antoinette and is thought to be the most stylish painter in France during the Revolution. Her father was also a successful painter, and he is the one who taught her to paint and easily eclipsed him.

Elizabeth greatly admired the portraits created by Ruben, especially the one he made of Susanna Lunden, in which she wears a straw hat. She was inspired by the way Ruben captured the light, and she was determined to create a self-portrait with the same qualities, and hence, the Lady with the Straw Hat was born.

This painting exemplified Elizabeth’s movement away from the conventions of Rococo artifice towards a much more simpler and natural look. In it, she stands with her tools in her hand, in the open air and engaging the viewer with an almost direct gaze. Sunlight falls of her and helps illuminate her neck as well as her exposed chest. She is wearing a straw hat that casts a shadow over her pretty face, and she also adorns an arrangement of flowers and a large feather. Her face a natural and unpowdered, and she has a messy hairstyle. If you believe that the rustic garb meant she was poor, then you should take a look at her earrings.

3. Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most recognizable painters of all time. His unique style has attracted million towards his work. His development as an artist was defined by his candid series of amazing self-portraits. The paintings do not only showcase alterations in his painting techniques but also the decline of his mental state with honesty and humility not seen since the self-portraits. In the last half-decade of his life, he painted about 30 self-portraits.

This specific self-portrait is actually one of his later works. The style of drawing, as well as the sense of colors, reflects his emotional state and energy. He painted this self-portrait shortly after he left the St. Remy asylum in the year 1889, and this painting shows how Van Gogh was fighting with his inner demons. This piece of art might just be the most intense self-portrait in the history of art.

This painting is a vivid showcase of Van Gough’s internal struggle. His piercing eyes hold you transfixed, but their main focus is not the outside, but what’s happening inside his head. The eyes are the most tightly drawn feature, and the energy of the picture builds from there. Blues and greens are mostly calm colors, but in contrast with his red hair and beard, they strike a rather jarring note which perfectly sets the mental tone of the painting. This painting is of a simple man who is trying his best to battle with his inner demons and fears.

4. Gerard ter Borch

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Gerard Ter Borch belonged to a famous Dutch family of artists and was born in the year 1617. He was the oldest of all siblings and was also known as Gerard Ter Borch the Younger. He began training with his father at an early age and was an excellent pupil.

The famous painter is known for his group portraits, such as The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Munster. He was later knighted and also received a gold chain from the king of Spain. He began painting portraits soon, and about half of his work involves human beings and are portraits.

He preferred to have his subjects stand in front of bare and dark backgrounds. His self-portraits were all also of the same nature. In this specific portrait, he adorns a cloak that seems to be of black silk or velvet while supporting the hairstyle of that era.

Gerard Ter Borch had his own distinctive type of interior genre, which he showcased with fidelity and grace. His portraits were mostly painted on a small, almost miniature scale, although many of them are of full length. The colors of his paintings are not bright, mostly due to the sober costumes of that time.

5. Pablo Picasso

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Pablo Picasso was a man of many talents. He was an amazing painter, was a pro at collaging, and also a great sculptor. He employed a variety of styles, used unique materials, and also different kinds of art forms. While most people only know him for his abstract, topsy-turvy paintings, his work from 1896 to 1900 exhibits his ability to sketch and also to paint beautiful realistic depictions.

After the year 1900 in 1901, Picasso set foot into his blue period in which he painted somber, stylized scenes in different blue tones, which is quite apparent in his self-portrait of the same year.

He painted a portrait in the year 1907 when he was about 25 years old. This was the beginning of his Rose Period, in which he began to use a warmer color palette of pink. At this point in time, his portraits still had some human outlines; later, his portraits became rather abstract.

This specific portrait is a prime example of his Cubist stage in which he incorporated fractured forms, geometry, and thick black lines. The tones are also a bit muddish with emphasis on browns and reds. Picasso is actually famous for his Cubist style, and he carried on dabbling in it till his death in the year 1973.

6. Gustave Courbet

This portrait was known as The Desperate Man and has been painted by the famous painter, Gustave Courbet. Courbet is actually one of the most recognized painters of all time, and he earned all his success at a very young age. He produced about twenty-five self-portraits, which helped to offer his viewers a glimpse into the formulation of his psychological evolution as well as his early identity.

Many have argued that The Desperate man conveys many different psychological states or messages. This painting was one of his early works when he was at the apex of his Romantic disillusionment and melancholy. In the painting, his expressions seem to be one of both psychosis and fear. He clenches his dark hair, and his arms are raised above his head, with tense muscles bulging from his forearms and wrists. It is believed that Courbet’s objective was to share the intensity of the of a moment, in which the artist ends his Roman education and suddenly becomes aware of his downfall and then along the same lines finds the power to repudiate a future that is not his.

This painting is one of his most popular and vital works, and it remained in his studio until he died. His career developed in a transitional period in which romanticism was giving way to realism and modernism in European visual culture. His early portraits are much different than his later ones.

7. Egon Schiele

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Egon Schiele was a famous painter who had a rather short life. His early demise fascinates critics, historians as well as artists. His works were nowhere near the acceptable norm, he continuously pushed the boundaries of acceptability, and his work was more towards the erotic side. His portraits present an intense insight into the reality of the human condition.

His self-portraits showcased glimpses of his personality, sometimes tortured, often arrogant, or maverick images of self. They are all rather fascinating and highly compelling. Schiele has the ability to bring the viewer close to himself, to his love and the lost, to his acquaintances, focusing completely on those individuals, their minds and emotions, mostly without any distractions in the background.

Schiele created about 300 paintings and 3000 works on paper, and he used sharply drawn angular lines and a mixture of color, which helped him reject the conventional standards of beauty, and he introduced ugliness as an emotion to the world. Most of his drawings were considered inappropriate at the time, and he was also arrested for seducing and abducting a young girl. The painter had a reputation of bringing in teenage girls to model for him.

His work is known to showcase the division if human personalities, the complexities, and the distance, and then the closeness of relations among humans as well as the possibility of compassion.

8. Anthony van Dyck

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Anthony van Dyck who was a prolific European painter who was popular for paintings that involved religious as well as mythological subjects. He was also a rather fine sketcher and draftsman. He was the son of a silk merchant and was one of twelve siblings. Hi first surviving work dates back to 1613, and in the early days of his career as an artist, he was inspired by Ruben’s technique of enamel-like glazes; he painted with a rather coarse texture. Anthony van Dyck used a much darker color scheme as compared to his mentor.

He was known to exaggerate the expressions as well as the emotions of his subjects. The saints were shown to dwell in feverish ecstasy while the executioners were enveloped in brutality. His self-portraits were rather subtle and did not showcase a range of intense emotions. In this specific painting, the young Anthony van Dyck carriers no tools of his trade, and this painting probably was created before he left his native Antwerp for Italy in the autumn of 1621.

The elegant drapery in the image can be associated with Van Dyck’s love for fine clothing as his father was a silk merchant. It was also a symbol of rich attire.

9. Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer was a German artist and was one of the greatest figures of the Northern Renaissance. He was a painter as well as a draughtsman, plus he rivaled his elder contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci. His work of allegorical scenes, masterful woodcuts, and engravings of mythical scenes made him famous all over Europe.

Albrecht Durer made many self-portraits throughout his lifetime. This Christ-like self-portrait was painted in 1500, just a couple of months before the painter’s 29th birthday. The painting is now in the collection of the Alte Pinakothek and is made in oil on a wooden panel.

In his former self-portraits, Durer always painted a three-quarter view, but in this painting, he directly looks at the viewer; this pose was usually preserved for Christ at that time. His hand in the painting is touching the fur collar of his coat, which seems like a religious gesture. The extremely symmetric composition draws attention to his eyes, which look directly upon the viewer. This painting was actually the last of the three self-portraits he painted.

This painting is thought to be the most complex, personal, and iconic of all his self-portraits, and the one that has become fixed in the popular imagination.

Durer’s monogram “AD,” and the inscription in Latin-“I, Albrecht Durer of Nuremberg, portrayed myself in everlasting colors aged twenty-eight years” are both placed at eye-level in order to strengthen the effect.

10. Lucian Freud

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Lucian Freud was a British artist that was born in Germany, and he was the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. His work has always shown carried an aura of tension that exists between matter and reality. Freud was more into figurative art rather than the abstract trend, which was popular in his time.

In most of his portraits, Freud always appears with a posture that is forced; either he looks out from the corner of his eye, or he is squinting his eyes shut or downwards. He was super obsessed with the human body, and that led him to give birth to his very own genre.

This painting is called Reflection with two children, and this was painted in the year 1965. In this painting, he looks down at his own reflection while his two kids Ali Boyt and Rose. There is a halo-like ceiling light just above his left shoulder. Freud used the mirror in a very different way, and in this painting, he just stares at it with a cold expression. This strange yet amusing painting showcases Freud as the father figure while his children as depicted as very tiny, far in the back.

The entire painting has been created used cool tones, mostly pale grey, and the light bounces off Freud’s face and hands, making them appear even brighter. This painting did not get much attention at first as it is one of his first works in which he used a double mirror.

11. Rembrandt van Rijn

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This painting is called The Prodigal Son in the Brothel and was created by a Dutch printmaker, draughtsman, and painter known as Master Rembrandt. He was famous for his work in all three mediums and is considered as one of the greatest visual artists in the history of Dutch art. He started his artistic career in a time known as the Dutch Golden Age, which was a period of great cultural achievement and wealth. He, like many in his time, was also an avid art collector as well as an art dealer.

This painting is a double portrait that stars Rembrandt and his wife, who is dressed as a barmaid or prostitute and the younger son. In the painting, his wife sits on his lap while he himself looks at the viewer and holds up a flagon of ale as he offers a silly grin. The artist was fascinated with the parable and the prodigal son throughout his painting career and returned it again and again. This parable has actually inspired many artists from across the ages and all around the world for its religious as well as moral background.

It is said that Rembrandt cut the left side of the painting voluntarily in order to place the attention of the viewer on the main theme.

12. Thomas Lawrence

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Lawrence was a famous portrait painter, and he was also the fourth president of the Royal Academy. He was actually a child prodigy, and his father was an innkeeper. He was most famous for his oil paintings and his first recognizable portrait of Queen Charlotte in the year 1790.

He was also an amazing draftsman and was known for his talent of capturing a likeness. He wasn’t as successful in his personal life as compared to his professional life. He went through tortuous relationships with Maria Siddons and Sally. He was actually the most fashionable painter of his time, but his popularity waned during the Victorian Era, but since then, it has increased.

As a portrait artist, he did create portraits of himself, and this painting is one of his more popular works. Lawrence used a more romantic technique with a subtle glow and a dark color palette. This is a portrait of when he was young and was still an associate in the royal academy.

There was a time when Lawrence was much popular in the United States of America and France as compared to Britain, but today his work is appreciated by most artists and historians, and he is best known for his portraits of Sarah Barrett Moulton and Elizabeth Farren.

13. Parmigianino

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Parmigianino was a mannerist painter that painted his self-portrait in a Convex Mirror in the year 1524 when he was just 21 years of age; some believe that he may have been even younger. In this self-portrait, the artist is quite young, and he almost seems like a happy and wealthy child of aristocratic parents.

Throughout his career, the renowned artist was fascinated by distortion, the way that an eye or an arm seems elongated when drawn away from the eye. In this painting, the young man stared back at the viewer with a look of unusually serene appraisal. He is a strikingly handsome fellow, with sweet features and chestnut hair that are divided down the middle and is richly dressed. The back of his hand is prominent and rather large. The painting itself is round and is set inside an extravagant gilded frame. It looks just like a mirror, or one can say that it is a mirror.

He is actually one of the most famous Italian painters of his time, and he developed a sophisticated and elegant version of the Mannerist styles that later became a formative influence on the generation after the High Renaissance. He is considered to be one of the most remarkable portrait painters of the century outside of Venice.

14. M. C. Escher

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This painting is called the Hand with Reflecting Sphere is one of Escher’s most recognizable works. This beautiful piece is a lithograph print and was printed in the year 1935. In most of his works, the artist added spheres, but in this specific painting, he painted his portrait while gazing in a reflecting sphere. Behind him, in the walls are a number of pictures-one of which is that of an Indonesian shadow puppet.

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch graphic artist who was known for his detailed prints with bizarre optics. He was the youngest of four boys, and his father was a civil engineer. In his early years, Escher was interested in carpentry and music, and he was not really good at maths. He studied at the School for Architecture and Decorative artists; this is where he fell in love with graphics and worked mainly in woodcuts. He commonly made use of geometric grids in his designs and is also known as the “father of modern tessellations.”

This specific artwork is quite different than any on this list. This self-portrait is unique, and Escher did his best to incorporate his love for spheres as well as other geometric designs into this artwork. In the background, the viewer can see lots of different pieces of furniture, as well as several framed pictures.

15. Andy Warhol

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This piece by the famous artist Andy Warhol is much more modern as compared to the other self-portraits on this list. The American Artist has used an arresting color scheme that helps to place focus on his face. The artist’s redhead floats on a dull black background, which is empty. The neck and torso or Warhol have been excluded from the portrait, and all the viewer can see is his head. This elimination of everything but his head helps Warhol focus the viewer’s expression on his face, hair, and expression.

The wildest, as well as animated part of the portrait, is the hair of the artist. Warhol stares directly at the viewer with a blank expression and slightly parted lips.

Warhol frequently represented himself in his art in different ways, which were both evasive as well as revelatory. In his first self-portrait, he was pictured in dark glasses and a raincoat. In his self-portraits between 1966 and 1967, the facial features were dissolved in various patterns of layered color. In the late 1980s, the artist’s self-image was actually a complete fabrication.

Warhol had an obsessive fascination with sudden death, and this was way before his near-fatal shooting in the year 1968, at the hand of Valerie Solanas. His Death and Disaster series included pictures of electric chairs, car crashes, and even the atomic bomb. His self-portraits, on the other hand, captured moments of recognition and revelation.

16. Joseph Wright of Derby

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Joseph Wright of Derby was a famous English portrait and landscape painter. He has been said to be the first professional painter who beautifully captured the spirit of the Industrial revolution. In his bright and praiseworthy career, Wright not only created portraits of others but also of himself.

Wright is popular for his chiaroscuro effect, which focuses on the contrast of dark and light and, for his portraits of candlelit subjects. Most of his paintings as well his drawings are owned by the Derby City Council, and they can be seen at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

This specific self-portrait is painted in Wright’s signature style, he uses a wonderful mixture of dark and light contrasts, and his eyes shine, reflecting some kind of light. His face features appear soft, and there is no harsh line in the portrait. The expression of the artist is neutral with slightly parted lips. This picture does not showcase a range of intense emotions and is rather bland. Nevertheless, the brushstrokes are exquisite, and the artist has beautifully captured his likeness in this painting.

One of Wright’s most striking paintings is the Old Man and Death that he created in the year 1774. He also painted the Dovedale by Moonlight, in which he magnificently captured the rural landscape of Dovedale, which was a narrow valley close to his hometown of Derby. That painting can today be seen at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College.

17. Paul Cézanne

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Paul Cezanne was a French post-impressionist painter and an artist who laid the foundations for the transitions from the 19th-century artistic conceptions to a new different world of art in the 20th Century. The artist’s often exploratory; repetitive brushstrokes are clearly recognizable and highly characteristic. He made use of different kinds of colors and used small brushstrokes that built up in order to form complex fields. Picasso, as well as Matisse, remarked that Cezanne is the father of us all.

This self-portrait by the artist in a Felt Hat is one of his most popular portraits. In this masterpiece, Cezanne applies his famous brushstrokes technique in which he used several small brushstrokes to form complex fields. Most of his self-portraits show him looking at the viewer from a sideways glance, and his face is turned three quarters — a pose that is preferred among most painters. The artist has used cool tones in this painting, and there are no objects in the background, in order to draw the viewers’ attention to the expression of the artist.

Cezanne’s work was full of intensity and intellect; he was not an abstract painter as his paintings did have some structure, but his style was different than most painters of his time. He was a major source of inspiration for most Cubist painters. Cezanne was an artist who was obsessed with his work, and he did not agree with the painting style of other painters.

18. Odilon Redon

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Odilon Redon was a part of a European movement known as the Symbolism movement, which occurred at the end of the 19th Century. Symbolist art is quite similar to Surrealism in a way that doesn’t seem to make much sense. However, there is a huge difference between Surrealism and Symbolism. The difference is that in Symbolism, everything does mean something, but in Surrealism, nothing makes any sense.

In his early days as an artist, Redon was inspired by literature such as Charles Baudelaire and Edger Allan Poe. His work was mostly dark, and he did not use many colors at all. His first collection was called Noir and was a set of charcoal drawings. In his last years, Redon completely changed his style, and he started using bright colors in his art, he worked mostly with pastel.

This self-portrait is of him at a rather young age. This is before he became famous among the Symbolist circle. Even when he was part of the Symbolist movement, he never really hung out of work with other Symbolists. He was always sort of an outsider and was never part of the social circle.

The dark color pallet is clearly visible in this painting, and the expression of the artist is neutral as well. The overall effect of the portrait is rather gloomy, and it is right in the artist’s alley. The artist stares directly at the viewer, and his eyes showcase some deep emotion.

19. David Wilkie

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Sir David Wilkie was a British painter who was famous for his genre scenes. He painted in several genres, such as historical scenes, scenes from his journey to Europe, and the Middle East, and he also painted portraits of royal men and women. He was known as the people’s painter. He painted portraits of Queen Victoria and William the fourth.

In this portrait, the artist gazes directly at the viewer, just like he would into a mirror. He made this beautiful self-portrait at the age of the young age of twenty. He holds a pen in one hand and his pencil holder in the other. His unkempt reddish hair stands in contrast with the otherwise dark background. Historians believe that he painted this masterpiece before he moved from Edinburgh to London in the year 1805.

Wilkie’s first important painting was the Pitlessie Fair that he created in 1804. This painting set out the style that the artist would pursue for the next two decades. Most of his paintings attained a lot of success, the Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Despatch is one of his finest work and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1822. His work was such a success that the painting had to be protected from a sea of admirers.

20. Theo van Doesburg

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Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist who practiced writing, painting, architecture, and poetry. The artist is best known as the leader, as well as the founder of De Stijl. He was also married to the pianist, artist, and choreographer Nelly van Doesburg.

The artist’s first exhibition was in the year 1908, and then later, he began to write for several magazines. He thought of himself as a modern painter, and most of his work was inspired by Vincent van Gough, both in subject matter and style.

His self-portrait with a hat is one of his most famous works and is a beautiful painting. He painted at least three versions of a self-portrait with a hat, each of them expressing a different kind of emotion. All of these paintings can be now viewed at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The first of the three shows a man of young age with an expression of sincerity, the latter two shows a much more brooding individual.

Painting and writing weren’t really his first passion; in his early days, he wanted to join the theater. He started painting in about 1900. He was also an instrumental figure in the formation of the De Stijl group of artists.

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