Women Artists

5 Self-Portraits by Women Artists That You Probably Haven’t Seen (And You Should)

Europeana 6 November 2021 min Read

When thinking of a self-portrait, the famous names and artworks of Dürer, Rembrandt, or Van Gogh probably come to mind. Here is your chance to discover five self-portraits you probably haven’t seen before and you should – they’re created by both professional and amateur women artists from different periods in history.

1. Gesina ter Borch

Self-Portraits by Women Artists Gesina ter Borch, Self-portrait,
Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Gesina ter Borch, Self-portrait, 1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Gesina ter Borch (1633–1690) was a Dutch Golden Age illustrator, watercolorist, and draftswoman. Her artworks consisted mainly of domestic scenes. She was born into an artistic family and developed her art skills, learning from her father Gerard ter Borch the Elder, along with her brothers Harmen and Moses and her half-brother Gerard ter Borch (II). She was also Gerard’s favorite model. While very talented, Gesina was an amateur. That’s why, during her life, her art didn’t reach far beyond the domestic circle. Along with painting she also wrote poetry.

In this self-portrait she’s holding a fan, considered an exotic fashionable accessory which the Dutch East India Company started importing from China at that time.

2. Amalia Wilhelmina von Königsmarck

Self-Portraits by Women Artists malia Wilhelmina von Königsmarck (attr.), Allegory with self-portrait and profile portrait of Ulrika Eleonora the Elder
Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Amalia Wilhelmina von Königsmarck (attr.), Allegory with self-portrait and profile portrait of Ulrika Eleonora the Elder, 1689, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden.

Amalia “Emilie” Wilhelmina Königsmarck (1663–1740) was a member of a German-Swedish noble family. She was known as an amateur painter, actor, and poet. This painting depicts four female figures: the right figure with a handful of brushes is probably Amalia von Königsmarck herself. She presents a profile portrait of Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark, the Queen consort of Sweden. The female figure wearing a laurel wreath, pointing to the royal portrait is Amalia’s sister, Aurora. Behind her, Fama the goddess of rumor and reputation is surveying the scene.

3. Anna Maria van Schurman

Self-Portraits by Women Artists Anna Maria van Schurman, Self-portrait
Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Anna Maria van Schurman, Self-portrait, 1633, Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria.

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–1678) was a 17th century German-born, Dutch artist known for her paintings and engravings. In 1636 she studied at Utrecht University, becoming the first female university student of Europe. She is also the first known Dutch painter to use pastel in a portrait. She gained honorary admission to the St. Luke’s Guild of painters in 1643, signaling public recognition of her art.

In addition to her visual art, Schurman was a poet and scholar and was proficient in 14 languages.

4. Helene Schjerfbeck

Self-Portraits by Women Artists Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait with Red Spot
Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait with Red Spot, 1944, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Finland.

Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) created over 40 self-portraits throughout her life. The older she became, the more isolated she was. For lack of models she painted herself. Her later portraits reveal her own physical deterioration with shocking honesty.

But the exhaustion of old age is something completely different—liberating, too, because you can let things go their own way, and are left with nothing but the sensitivity of the brush.

– From a letter to Einar Reuter, November 28, 1926.

5. Amanda Sidvall

Self-Portraits by Women Artists
Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Amanda Sidvall, Self-Portrait, 1870-1871, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden.

Amanda Sidwall (1844–1892) was one of the first 18 students in the ‘Women’s Department’ when the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts formally opened its doors to women in 1864. In 1874 she went to Paris to continue her studies at the Académie Julian. Sidvall received good reviews in her lifetime and became an established artist. At the Paris Salon of 1877, two of her paintings were sold to the French state. This self-portrait in a hat with a blue silk bow was painted while she was still a student at the Stockholm Academy.

BONUS: Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels

Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels
Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

No, we haven’t made an error, putting the wrong image in the article. This still-life does contain a self-portrait of the painter. Can you find it? In the pewter lid of the earthenware jug, you can see the reflection of a woman’s face with a white cap. This is Clara Peeters.

Self-Portraits by Women Artists: Clara Peeters, Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1615, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands. Detail.

Find out more at Europeana, Europe’s platform for cultural heritage. To learn more about remarkable European women in the arts, sciences, and society, visit the online exhibition Pioneers.

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