THE ARTLIST

10 Self-Portraits By Women Artists

Expanding the frame of self-portraiture

What does Van Gogh look like? We can all instantly picture the solemn stare of that famous flame-haired man. What about Andy Warhol? No doubt you can immediately picture dark, furrowed eyebrows and a shaggy mop of white hair.

But what about Lois Mailou Jones? Or Georgette Chen? These great artists are overshadowed by their male counterparts. Too often women have only existed in the canon of art history as models, rather than artists in their own right. So let's expand the frame of self-portraiture - the original selfie - with these 10 masterpieces...


1. Alice Bailly

Bailly draws from the artistic culture of the early Twentieth Century - including Fauvism, Futurism, Dada and Cubism - mixing these to create her unique style.

This self-portrait, painted in 1917, shows a more avant-garde approach to self-portraits than was normally accepted at the time.

Self-Portrait, Alice Bailly, 1917 | National Museum of Women in the Arts 

2. Hyun Mi Yoo

Hyun Mi Yoo combines painting and photography here to create a vivid mixed-media self-portrait.

"We often admire an eloquently depicted painting, saying that it is like a photograph. We also might say a very beautiful photograph looks like a painting", she says. Hyun Mi Yoo captures this blurring of boundaries: between painting and photography; between two- and three-dimensional planes; between artist and model.

Self Portrait (Jayeon), Yoo, Hyun Mi, 유현미, 2010 | Korean Art Museum Association

3. Amrita Sher-Gil

Amrita Sher-Gil's painting straddles cultures, showing both her Indian heritage and her European training. A prolific self-portraitist, this painting is the fifth in the series of portraits Sher-Gil made while studying in Paris.

Self Portrait (5), Amrita Sher-Gil, 1932 | National Gallery of Modern Art

4. Sarah Lucas

Lucas was a member of the notorious 'Young British Artists' movement in the 1990s. An agent provocateur, Lucas's self-portraits question the objectification and sexualization of the female body, as seen here. In a cheeky innuendo, Lucas has placed two fried eggs on her breasts, both literally making her body an object for these to rest on, and also mocking the female body's connection to fertility within art history.

Self Portrait With Fried Eggs, Sarah Lucas, 1996/1999 | British Council

5. Lois Mailou Jones

Jones went to Africa for the first time in 1970, at age sixty-five, but the forms, rhythmic cadences, and vibrant color she associated with the ceremonies of Africa had infused her art since her student years. These influences are apparent in this self-portrait, in which Jones visually links her identity to traditional African sculpture.

Self Portrait, Lois Mailou Jones, 1940 | Smithsonian American Art Museum

6. Georgette Chen

Chen was a truly international artist, gaining her artistic education in Paris, New York and Shanghai, and working across France, China and Singapore. Chen finally settled in Singapore in 1954, where she taught at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and was the pioneer of the 'Nanyang Style'.

Self Portrait, Georgette Chen, 1946 | National Heritage Board, Singapore

7. Artemisia Gentileschi

Here Artemisia Gentileschi identifies herself as the female personification of Painting - something her male contemporaries could never do.

In Cesare Ripa's dictionary of emblems, 'Iconologia', he describes the allegory of Painting as ''a beautiful woman, with full black hair, dishevelled, and twisted in various ways, with arched eyebrows that show imaginative thought, the mouth covered with a cloth tied behind her ears, with a chain of gold at her throat from which hangs a mask, and has written in front 'imitation'." Gentileschi represents herself in this manner - save from the gagged mouth, which was meant to imply that Painting is dumb.

Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), Artemisia Gentileschi, 1638 - 1639 | Royal Collection Trust, UK

8. Cindy Sherman

For most of her career, Cindy Sherman turned the camera on herself, building a catalogue of self-portraits that engage an array of clichéd female archetypes: from the tearful innocent, to the celebrity starlet.

In this black-and-white portrait, Sherman plays the role of the Madonna. Although she is shrouded in a white veil like a classically rendered religious figure, Sherman's elongated eye lashes, accentuated lips and pomaded dual horn-like curls peaking out from beneath her veil play with the traditional historic depiction. Her stylized image could be a reference to the 'new woman' of the 1920s, whose liberated views on sexuality are in direct opposition to the virginal, biblical Madonna.

Madonna (Self-Portrait), Cindy Sherman, 1975 | SCAD Museum of Art

9. Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt created this watercolor, one of her few self-portraits, around 1880, a year after she began exhibiting her work with the French impressionists. Cassatt used her art to address the many roles of the modern woman: as mother, as intellectual, and here, as professional artist. Although dressed fashionably, Cassatt is not content to be admired, but returns the viewer's gaze. Concealing her sketching surface from view, she playfully reverses expectations, suggesting that the artist is appraising the viewer.

Strokes of green in the right background suggest wallpaper, while the wash of rich yellow at the left evokes the sunlight that pours over the artist's shoulders and casts her face into shadow. The bold strokes of Cassatt's drawing, emphasizing color, mood, and motion, celebrate her rapid touch and the modernity of her style.

Self-Portrait, Mary Stevenson Cassatt, c. 1880 | Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

10. Frida Kahlo

In many of her self-portraits, Kahlo is accompanied by her favorite animals, including spider monkeys, parrots, and dogs.

Such is the case in this 'Self-Portrait with Small Monkey', from 1945, which depicts Frida in three-quarter profile, with the attire and hairstyle of the indigenous women of southeastern Mexico. She is intertwined with Señor Xolotl, as she called her Mexican hairless dog, while behind her, on the right, a spider monkey stares at the viewer. On the other side there is a pre-Hispanic idol. One end of the ribbon that intertwines all of the figures surrounds Frida’s signature, while the other is wound around a nail piercing the beige clouds that form the background of the painting.

Self-portrait with Small Monkey, Frida Kahlo, 1945 | Museo Dolores Olmedo

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best" - Frida Kahlo

Words by Leonie Shinn-Morris
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