The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History

Las-Meninas-010Frances Spalding at The Guardian:

“The moment when a man comes to paint himself – he may do it only two or three times in a lifetime, perhaps never – has in the nature of things a special significance.” So Lawrence Gowing wrote, in an introduction to a 1962 exhibition of British self-portraits. And he is right: self-portraits, whether of men or women, have a particular call on our attention. Take Käthe Kollwitz's etching Self-portrait with Hand to her Forehead, reproduced in James Hall's new book. The head and hand fill the entire plate, leaving no room for anything else. The heavy, repeated lines form dark shadows on and around the head, while the eye under the hand is obliterated by darkness. Yet her face presses forward, as if she were leaning on the kitchen table, offering us, with inescapable intimacy, a memory of the suffering and sadness she witnessed in the poor quarter of Berlin where her husband worked as a doctor. The viewer need know nothing of this: it is all there in her look.

more here.