Iconic Artists Who Have Immortalized Themselves Through Famous Self-Portraits
Throughout the course of art history, self-portraiture has remained a tried and true practice among leading artists. Transcending technique and style, self-portrayals are prevalent in every major movement, from the inspired Italian Renaissance to the Post-Modern and Contemporary period. To illustrate the prevalence of these depictions, we have compiled a collection of the most famous self-portraits by the world's most well-known artists.
Through this comprehensive selection of self-portraits, we explore the curious custom of representing one's self through visual art. By offering an eclectic look at the work of well-known figures—spanning Rembrandt, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Norman Rockwell, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh—the enduring popularity of the self-portrait phenomenon becomes strikingly clear. And, while it may not seem as if age-old artists like Michelangelo and Raphael have much in common with modern masters likeAndy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama, their like-minded interest in self-portraiture ultimately unites them—both as visual artists and as human beings.
See our selection of well-known artists' most famous self-portraits below.
Leonardo da Vinci
Created circa 1510, Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk is widely believed to be a rare self-portrait of the master artist. As Leonardo was born in 1452, he would have been nearly 60 years old when he completed this work on paper.
The piece now permanently resides in Turin's Royal Library.
Rembrandt van Rijn
While there is certainly no shortage of Rembrandt self-portraits (over 90 are known), Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar perfectly captures the Dutch Golden Age painter's signature use of light, textured brushstrokes, and somber color palette.
Rendered in 1659, the oil painting is now part of the National Gallery of Art's permanent collection.
Titled The Desperate Man, this piece by realist painter Gustave Courbet remains his most well-known self-portrait. Completed in 1845, The Desperate Man combines elements of Romanticism—a style that was prominent until the middle of the 19th century—and Realism, a movement that would eventually be pioneered by Courbet.
Today, this iconic self-portrayal is part of a private collection.
Featuring the Impressionist artist's signature beret and beard, this self-portrait of Claude Monet was painted in 1886. Self–Portrait with a Beret showcases Monet's distinctively blurred brushstrokes, compositional use of unpainted canvas, and expertly-rendered balance between light and dark.
This oil painting is housed in a private collection. Paul Gauguin
Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake by Paul Gauguin presents the French Post-Impressionist painter's characteristically colorful palette. Of over 40 self-portrayals, this 1889 piece remains Gauguin's most well-known due to its avant-garde composition and underlying religious themes, including apples and a snake.
This oil-on-wood painting can be found in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Vincent van Gogh
Like many forefathers of the modern art movement, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh dabbled in self-portraiture on numerous occasions. Though his collection of such portrayals features many iconic works, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear is perhaps his most famous. Painted shortly after the infamous incident in which the struggling artist cut off his own ear in 1889, this painting prominently features his bandaged wound.
Today, you can gaze upon the well-known work in London's Courtauld Gallery. Paul Cézanne
Though he is predominantly renowned for his mountainous landscapes and still lifes that play with perspective, French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne also often painted portraits. Sometimes, as in the case of Self-Portrait With Palette, he even depicted himself. Created in 1890, this piece portrays the artist at his easel and features his distinctively painterly brushstrokes and unique use of color.
Now, this painting resides in the E.G. Bührle Foundation in Zürich, Switzerland.
Norwegian painter and printmaker Edward Munch is known for his dark and dreary Expressionist depictions—and Self-Portrait With Skeleton Arm (1895) is no exception. This peculiar piece was initially rendered in lithographic chalk and ink, and has been reprinted several times since its conception. In later reproductions, Munch even opted to black both out the skeletal arm and his signature.
Today, authentic prints of this piece can be found in numerous collections, including the British Museum. Pablo Picasso
While Pablo Picasso's constantly changing style is evident in his entire oeuvre, it is perhaps most obvious when comparing his myriad self-portraits. Painted, drawn, and sculpted over the course of his career, his self-portrayals directly reflect the Spanish artist's evolution. Of all of these depictions, his Self-Portrait from 1907 most aptly captures his transition from Primitivism to Cubism, 2 of his most well-known periods.
This painting is currently housed by Prague's Narodni Gallery. Frida Kahlo
Beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has no shortage of self-portraits. Still, Self–Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird from 1940 remains one of her most prized portrayals. The oil painting features several symbols and concepts prevalent throughout her portfolio, including foliage, wildlife, and suffering.
This iconic work can be found in the Nickolas Muray Collection at the University of Texas. Salvador Dali
Unsurprisingly, Spanish artist and Surrealist master Salvador Dalí took an unconventional approach to depicting himself with Soft Self-Portrait With Grilled Bacon. Painted in 1941, the piece depicts a single piece of bacon beside an organic, structureless shape adorned with a human face and propped up with crutches. Given its ambiguous appearance, one may wonder how such a face represents the artist. However, look closely and you'll spot Dalí's iconic, upturned mustache!
Today, this surreal self-portrait calls Catalonia's Dalí Theatre-Museum home.
Like much of Marcel Duchamp's work, his Self-Portrait in Profile (1957) conveys the French artist's avant-garde approach to creating. Just 1 in a series of 137 pieces, this silhouetted depiction is experimentally composed of torn paper pasted on velvet-covered paperboard. While one may assume that the text written against the white backdrop is the artist's signature, it actually reads Marcel déchiravit, or “Marcel tore this quickly.”
This piece now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Norman Rockwell
American artist and illustrator Norman Rockwell is known for his delightful collection of Saturday Evening Post covers. On February 13, 1960—an impressive 44 years after Rockwell joined the magazine—the Saturday Evening Post ran a biographical piece on the artist. For the issue's cover, Rockwell was commissioned to depict himself, and, thus, he created this clever and comical Triple Self-Portrait.
The original oil painting of this cover can be found in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Andy Warhol
A key figure in the Pop Art movement, American artist Andy Warhol boasts numerous well-known, popular pieces. Among his most famous works of art are his multi-colored, repeated silkscreen portraits. In addition to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, Warhol depicted himself in this style in his 1966 Self-Portrait.
This portrait belongs to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Chuck Close
American photorealist Chuck Close gained prominence with his large-scale photographic portraits. In his aptly-titled Big Self-Portrait from 1968, the artist presents a realistically-rendered acrylic painting of himself. Clad in thick-framed glasses and with a lit cigarette in his mouth, it is clear that the artist had a particular persona in mind when posing for the piece. “There’s no question,” Close states, “I had some attitude about the way I wanted to be perceived.”
Today, this piece is housed by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Cindy Sherman
Master of disguise Cindy Sherman is celebrated for her self-portraits in which she assumes different characters. In Untitled #96, a photograph from the American artist's 1981 series Centerfold, Sherman is depicted dressed as a teenage girl.
In 2011, a print of this piece was purchased at auction for a record $3.89 million. At the time, it was the most expensive photograph ever sold, making Untitled #96 one of her most well-known works. Jean-Michel Basquiat
American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat skillfully paired a street art style with Neo-Expressionist know-how to create a rich oeuvre of socially-conscious art. In Self-Portrait from 1982, Basquiat employs acrylic paint and crayon to create a composition that combines naive, figurative representations with complete abstraction.
Like much of the artist's work, this portrait is now housed in a private collection. Keith Haring
American artist and social activist Keith Haring is celebrated for his contributions to New York City's iconic street culture. Haring put a Pop Art spin on graffiti, as evident in his untitled self-portrait from 1985. Conveying a cartoon-like aesthetic and playful style, this portrait embodies Haring's graphic approach to iconography.
This piece is now part of a private collection. Lucian Freud
Reflection (1985), a self-portrayal by British portrait painter Lucian Freud, conveys the artist's raw and realism-inspired style. Featuring thickly applied paint and a purely figurative focus, the oil painting captures Freud's distinctive and recognizable approach to portraiture.
Reflection belongs to a private collection. Gehrard Richter
The comprehensive portfolio of German artist Gerhard Richter is esteemed for its wide range of styles. In addition to abstract works and “overpainted” photographs, he also produces portraits that, though painted, almost appear to be blurred photos. A key example of a well-known work from this genre is Selbstportrait (1996), a self-portrait that vaguely presents the artist as he looks toward the ground.
This piece is part of the Flowerman Collection. Louise Bourgeois
French-American artist Louise Bourgeois is predominantly recognized as a sculptor and installation artist. However, in addition to her 3-dimensional creations, the artist also produced paintings, drawings, and prints. Bourgeois was not associated with any particular artistic movement or group, though many of her masterpieces—like this curious Self-Portrait (2007) in which the artist portrays herself as a cat—suggest Surrealist influences.
This feline-themed self-portrait now resides in a private collection. Yayoi Kusama
Japanese creative Yayoi Kusama is one of the most sought-after contemporary artists. While her interactive installations often merit her the most praise, she is also a skilled painter, as apparent in her series of self-portraits. Rendered in acrylic paint, this portrayal from 2010 captures Kusama's characteristically bright color palette, penchant for patterns, and playful style.
This piece is housed in a private collection. In addition to more traditional portraiture, many artists throughout history have opted to instead include themselves in unexpected compositions. See some of these sneaky self-portraits below. Jan van Eyck
In his most well-known painting, The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck presents wealthy Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his first wife, Costanza Trenta. On the surface, the piece appears to be a simple double portrait. However, a closer look reveals that, in the convex mirror in the center of the composition, van Eyck's discreet reflection is visible.
This painting can be found in London's National Gallery.
The School of Athens, a famous fresco by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, is often celebrated for its depiction of each and every great ancient Greek philosopher. In addition to this impressive collection of figures, Raphael also opted to include himself in the lower-lefthand corner of the large-scale composition. He can be seen staring straight at the viewer as he stands next to Ptolemy.
This fresco is located in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Michelangelo
In The Last Judgment, a fresco found in the Sistine Chapel, Italian master Michelangelo fills a frantic composition with numerous biblical characters and saints accompanied by their attributes. One noteworthy figure is St. Bartholomew, who—as in many Christian depictions—is seen holding his own skin. In a fascinating twist, the face portrayed on the flesh is widely believed to be a self-portrait of the artist himself!
The Last Judgment is in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Diego Velázquez
Las Meninas (“The Ladies-in-Waiting”), a 1656 painting by Spanish Golden Age artist Diego Velázquez, portrays Madrid's royal court. Velázquez has cleverly placed himself behind the Infanta Margarita and her handmaids. He is shown standing at his easel with his palette and brushes in hand.
Las Meninas is part of the Museo Nacional del Prado's permanent collection.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
In Au Moulin Rouge (“At the Moulin Rouge”) French Belle Époque painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec offers a glimpse of nightlife during turn-of-the-century Paris. As a frequent visitor of the city's nightclubs, it is fitting that Toulouse-Lautrec inserted himself into the background of this piece. He can be seen walking with Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran, his cousin and doctor.
This painting can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago.