Caricaturist Ralph Barton garnered fame and fortune in the 1920s, spoofing the urban “smart set” with an infectious wit and an elegant, calligraphic line. In this haunting self-portrait, however, the artist reveals what he usually took pains to conceal: the turmoil of the psyche. Inscribed “with apologies to Greco and God,” he suggests the tormented subjects of El Greco’s portraits and his own mental anguish. As Barton wrote in 1926, “the human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare.” Despite his own distress, he helped invent a new type of stylish, lighthearted celebrity caricature that refrained from exposing weaknesses. “It is not the caricaturist’s job to be penetrating,” he insisted. “It is his job to put down the figure a man cuts before his fellows in his attempt to conceal the writhings of his soul.”

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  • Title: Ralph Barton Self-Portrait
  • Creator: Ralph Barton
  • Date Created: c. 1925
  • Physical Dimensions: w28.3 x h37.3 cm (Image)
  • Type: Watercolor and graphite on paperboard mounted on illustration board
  • Rights: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
  • Classification: Painting