The mirror, above all, the mirror is our teacher.
- Leonardo da Vinci
Since the invention of the glass mirror in the 1500s artists have been scrutinizing and recording their own reflections. In self-portraiture the artist is both maker and model, and the distinctions between observer and observed break down. Like an autobiography, which can range from the informative to the fabricated, a self-portrait provides clues that reveal the artist’s identity (or identities). Through pose, facial expression, setting, costume, and stylistic presentation the artist “signs” his or her work.
The term “self-portrait” was coined in the 1800s, when self-expression and individuality became particularly valued. In self-portraiture the artist finds a convenient, inexpensive subject to explore a range of emotional, psychological and spiritual states or to create any number of witty fictional personas.
The AGO has an extensive collection of self portraits that cross all media and date from the 1500s to the present day.
This selection introduces highlights of this collection with works by artists such as Rembrandt, Käthe Kollwitz, Edvard Munch, Greg Curnoe and Alex Colville.