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8 Best Selfies From Art History

Artists' Stories

8 Best Selfies From Art History

Whoever criticizes the fashion of selfies, must have forgotten that selfies have existed for a really loooooooong time in painting. Here comes a curious and less obvious selection of a few of them:

1. Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait, 1948, Collection of Dr. Samuel Fastlicht, Mexico City

Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most recognized artists, painted 55 self- portraits, all of which very moving and unique. She painted her pain, her heartbreaks, her pride, her femininity… She beautifully described her life with paint and images. She said: “I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best.”

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2. Rembrandt van Rijn

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, 1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, 1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Rembrandt produced an incredible number of selfies over his lifetime: over a hundred in various media. At first he used them to practice, later he documented his ageing face. He often presented himself as different characters, for example here he features as the Apostle Paul. He also liked to paint himself in changing hats – what a fashionable man.

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3. Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638–9, The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638–9, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Artemisia was one of the very few female painters of the 17th century. Her father was a painter too and he taught Artemisia how to paint, but soon the student surpassed her master. Here she presents herself as the embodiment of painting which suggests her confidence and self-awareness. She’s wearing green and yellow, two primary colours, and she holds two other symbols in her hands: a paintbrush and a palette. A skull pentant on her neck may imply that she is aware that artist’s fame doesn’t last forever.

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4. Percy Wyndham Lewis

Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro, a self-portrait, 1921, National Portrait Gallery

Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro, a self-portrait, 1921, National Portrait Gallery


Wyndham Lewis (he didn’t like his first name Percy) wanted to be different, what you can certainly see from this selfie. He was a co-founder of a Vorticist movement in art – an English equivalent of Italian Futurism- as well as an author and editor of a magazine BLAST. Vorticists hated polished nudes,  idyllic landscapes or monumental scenes related to the past. They wanted to live here and now, and the only style they found applicable to modernity was a geometric abstraction.

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5. Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at 28, 1500, Alte Pinakothek

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at 28, 1500, Alte Pinakothek

Albrecht Dürer was a very comprehensive draughtsman, painter, printmaker and theorist. Here he presents himself as Christ, with long curly hair, a mustache and elongated face. Nevertheless, he still wants to be recognized as he places his signature on the eye-level of the viewer. He knew his own worth as he kept in touch with the major minds of his times like Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini or Raphael and he worked for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.

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6. Pierre Bonnard

Pierre Bonnard, Self-portrait, c. 1889, private collection

Pierre Bonnard, Self-portrait, c. 1889, private collection


Pierre Bonnard is probably most famous from his intimate domestic scenes depicting his wife Marthe. Here, however, he paints himself, a peculiar but great artist of the twentieth century. Together with his friends, he founded an avant-garde group called Les Nabis, which produced many Symbolists and Art-Nouveau-style works.

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7. Raphael

Raphael, Self-portrait, 1506, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Raphael, Self-portrait, 1506, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Raphael painted this selfie when he was only 23 and looked very innocent. In reality he was quite a character. He died aged 37 after a night of wild sex which drove him into fever. He didn’t want to admit the true cause of his illness which made the doctors give him a wrong cure which caused his death.
Despite the sexual excesses, he was very productive and left an immense body of work which gave him the status of a great master together with Leonardo and Michelangelo.

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8. Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich, Автопортрет or Self-portrait, 1910, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Kazimir Malevich, Автопортрет or Self-portrait, 1910, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


Malevich was a visionary who changed painting forever. He was a theorist of the Suprematist movement, which claimed the supremacy of shape and colour over the iconography, he painted the Black Square and he claimed himself to reinvent painting. He believed art could change the world, he wanted to bring it closer to the people. Unfortunately, the Stalinist regime found his abstract works all the contrary calling them ‘bourgeois art’ and banning all over the Soviet Union.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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