Self-Portraits / Rembrandt van Rijn

Self-Portraits / Rembrandt van Rijn

  • As quoted in R.v.R. : Being an Account of the Last Years and the Death of One Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (1930) by Hendrik Willem van Loon


No artist has left  a loftier or more penetrating personal testament than Rembrandt van Rijn. In more than 90 portraits of himself(including over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings and about seven drawings) that date from the outset of his career in the 1620s to the year of his death in 1669,he created an autobiography in art that is the equal of the finest ever produced in literature even of the intimately analytical Confessions of St. Augustine.

To Kenneth Clark,(art historian) Rembrandt is “with the possible exception of Van Gogh the only artist who has made the self-portrait a major means of artistic self-expression, and

he is absolutely the one one who has turned self-portraiture into an autobiography.

Rembrandt’s self-portraits were created by the artist looking at himself in a mirror,  and the paintings and drawings therefore reverse his actual features. In the etchings the printing process creates a reversed image, and the prints therefore show Rembrandt in the same orientation as he appeared to contemporaries. This is one reason why the hands are usually omitted or “just cursorily described” in the paintings; they would be on the “wrong” side if painted from the mirror.

Three phases of  Rembrandt’s self-portraits

Scholars generally divide Rembrandt’s self-portraits into three phases. There are the lively and experimental images that he created as a young artist on the make. In these he explores effects of light as well as bizarre grimaces and facial expressions. Often he appears with a shock of chaotic,tangled hair that could be a visual symbol of his fertile creativity .


Νext come the self-portraits of the 1630s and ’40s,when he appears in middle age ,wearing expensive clothes such as fur-trimmed velvet coats. In these pictures  which are perhaps less pioneering than those that came before or after, Rembrandt presents himself with dignity while showing off the trappings of prosperity ,reflecting the commercial success he was enjoying in Amsterdam.



Finally,after a gap of around seven years when he refrained from the practice ,there are the 15 or so self-portraits of his late years,beginning in 1652. For many people,these are among the greatest artworks that Rembrandt ever produced. Gone are the gold chains and richly embroidered shirts. Instead the artist depicts himself with rugged simplicity and honesty. As a result,these images seem to suggest a refreshing,and strikingly modern,interest in introspection.



Self-Portrait with Two Circles


Lastly i left a masterpiece of his last years.  It is the most ambitious self-portrait in which he is depicted at work. It is notable for its monumentality and for an enigmatic background. In this mysterius work ,we see the master himself,in an unsigned portrait. Behind the painter are the circles that still puzzle art historians about what Rembrandt intended them to mean.The hand holding the brushes is a striking feature in that it is so vaguely depicted.

There has been much scholarly debate about the significance of these circles but no one has come up with a definitive hypothesis. They may symbolise eternity and perfection but the theory which attracts the greatest number of adherents is that they are a symbol, or rather evidence, of artistic skill, in that to draw a perfect circle freehand was traditionally thought to be the ultimate test of draughtsmanship.

It seems as if Rembrandt also gave viewers a role in the creative process:that of using our powers of perception to complete the painting in our head…





The world of interior / Henri Matisse

The world of interior / Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

Matisse liked to be surrounded in everyday life by furniture and objects, which constantly renew his inspiration, and which may become the main subject of his paintings and drawings. Some of them are faithfull companions.For him, the object, artistic or useful, is a pretext for researches on the line, the shape and the color, in his methodic process to the ever greater simplification to find the “sign” and the brightness in his works. Furthermore,

the artist gives them a personality and considers them as actors with a singular character and a particular story that he staged in different compositions.Through objects, as in the rest of his work, Matisse was seeking the purest expression of his view of the world around him. Objects were used as part of this process, enabling the artist to explore different coloured and graphic facets, in an approach that fostered constant, vibrant change and development in his style. The objects form a repertoire of shapes and colours the painter would dip into depending on the requirements of his compositions. Matisse gives the object a crucial role to play: ” Objects are actors: good actors can perform in ten different plays, an object can perform a different role in ten different paintings.” A single object may therefore be transformed in a series of colourful, graphic variations on a same theme.

Hélène Adant, Palette d’objets, Villa Le Rêve, Vence, 1946, photography Coll. Photo library of the documentation center, Matisse museum, Nice Photo : Centre Pompidou, Paris, Mnam/Cci, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Fund Hélène Adant


From his very first painting, Still Life with Books (1890), Matisse always saw objects as standalone subjects, to the point that they were transformed into the protagonists of art that attempted to transmit emotion:

“copies don’t interest me […] what’s important is the object’s relationship to the artist, the artist’s personality, the artist’s skill in structuring his feelings and emotions”.

The artist considered the chosen objects as loyal witnesses to a sense of curiosity, a period, a style of art, a friendship, and he displayed a great attentiveness to and interest in them. Some acted as veritable studio companions.Some objects are particularly significant, such as the Rococo chair he bought in Nice in 1942.

“I’ve been looking for a new object for months. I don’t know what… I’m looking for something to grab me. ” “I have finally found the object I’ve been looking for for a year now. It’s a Baroque Venetian chair in varnished silver. Enamel-like. […] When I saw it in an antique dealer’s a few weeks ago, I was shaken. It is spectacular, I’m obsessed with it. I shall slowly make my way back with it in the summer. ”

This Rococo chair became the primary protagonist in many paintings. Its arabesque lines bring it to life. Its harmonious pose, slightly outside the frame, turns it into a truly exceptional model.


Searching for source materials, Matisse traveled extensively and gathered works from China, Egypt, Morocco, Java, Tangiers, the Congo, Europe, and elsewhere. He had eclectic tastes and could find beauty and inspiration just as easily in a silver chocolate pot as a disproportionate statuette.


Chocolate pot. French. 19th–early 20th century. Silver and wood. Private collection.

When Henri Matisse married Amélie Noellie Parayre in January 1898 the couple received a beautiful silver chocolate pot as a wedding present from the French artist Albert Marquet. Many of Matisse’s still lifes of this period feature the silver pot.

This version of chocolate pot was bought by Pablo Picasso


Vase, artist unknown, Andalusia, Spain (early 20th century), blown glass (Ancienne collection Henri Matisse, former collection of Henri Matisse, Musée Matisse, Nice. Bequest of Madame Henri Matisse, 1960. Photo by François Fernandez, image courtesy Musée Matisse / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Matisse found this vase on his 1910 trip to Andalusia. No doubt the artist took pleasure in the vase’s sinuous curves, half-moon handles, and bulbous hips that bring to mind a stoutly woman. It is the central figure in his painting “Vase of Flowers” (1924).

Matisse was essentially a studio painter his entire career (except,curiously enough,for his seminal break-through during the summer of 1905 and his Morocco trips).Even in Tahiti he painted indoors.But whether indoors or just outside his home ,he made everything a studio.


I will end my short research on Matisse’s objects and his interior, with a photo that moved me .In this photo ,Henri Matisse observes a ceramic vase by Pablo Picasso and this moment is captured by Henri Cartier Bresson .And i’m thinking, how can such a small room fit so much art.. And that inspires me..



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