Artists Famous for Creating their Own Portrait Paintings

Artists Famous for Creating their Own Portrait Paintings

Historically, artists used self-portraits as their calling cards. With a self-portrait, they showed potential clients their ability to capture a likeness. In addition, the portrait gave an idea of their painting capabilities. Many artists also wanted to show their “social status” in their self-portraits in earlier centuries. In the 1600s, for instance, the Spanish painter, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, depicted himself as an accomplished and knighted painter by representing himself among royalty.  

In more modern times, most painters still create self-portraits but not as “calling cards” anymore. Nevertheless, there are various reasons why painters still paint self-portraits. Artists might, for instance, use self-portraits to take on a silly persona. For example, Frank Arcuri depicted himself as a class clown with a paintbrush pinched between his nose and upper lip.

In this article, we’ll have a brief look at nine famous self-portraits of different historical and more modern famous painters.  

Albrecht Dürer

The German printmaker, Albrecht Dürer, is renowned for his highly detailed engravings and woodcuts. What is not always so well-known is that this Northern Renaissance artist also created several essential self-portraits. 

His self-portraits are usually named by his age when the painting was created. “Self-portrait at thirteen” is, for example, his self-portrait when he was 13 years old. 

His most significant self-portrait is “Self-Portrait at 28”, where he portrayed himself in a way that’s similar to depictions of Christ. Art historians believe this indicates his self-image. He saw his talents as God-given.

Leonardo da Vinci 

Another famous Renaissance artist who created at least one of the most famous portraits is Leonardo de Vinci in 1512.

It is widely believed that this famous portrait painting, “Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk,” is a rare self-portrait of the world-famous artist. When this self-portrait was created, Da Vinci was nearly 60 years old. The sketch was done on paper.

It is unclear why he created a self-portrait at this age, as it was not a “calling card” in the sense that other Renaissance artists used self-portraits. However, the piece is now housed in Turin’s Royal Library.

David Hockney

David Hockney is an influential English painter and an essential contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s. 

Hockney is ruthless in his self-portraits – he never tries to look good. This modern way of treating self-portraits differs entirely from what the old masters have tried to convey with their self-portraits. 

What Hockney does, is record the act of self-portraiture. He shows the process of looking in a mirror and recording what is seen. This gives the self-portrait a deliberately awkward truth. In other words, he paints an honest observation. His “Self-Portrait with Charlie” (1995) is an excellent example of this style.


Although Renaissance artists usually depicted themselves as realistic as possible, some artists experimented with the self-portrait concept. Parmigianino, for instance, also painted an accurate picture of what he saw in a convex mirror. Like the modern artist Hockney, Parmigianino portrayed the “truth” as seen in the mirror. This famous art portrait is named “Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror”.

This early 16th-century artist looked at himself in a convex mirror and painted his distorted reflection. His hand close to the picture’s surface is enormous, and his face is the focus of a bubble image. 

Interestingly, this painting is the theme of John Ashbery’s (1927-2017) great poem, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”.

Rembrandt van Rijn 

When standing in front of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait with Two Circles”, most people feel that Rembrandt is scrutinizing them. It seems as if Rembrandt looks at you with eyes that are portals of consciousness, time, and memory. 

He depicted himself as being in the act of painting. He is dressed in the robes of a master, and the circles behind him represent the world he is creating. 

While viewing this self-portrait (which is only one of the over 90 self-portraits we know of), you get the undeniable feeling that a natural person stands in front of you. 

Paul Gauguin 

Paul Gauguin’s “Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake” reflects this French Post-Impressionist painter’s characteristically colorful palette. This is only one of more than 40 self-portraits but is considered the most well-known self-portrait of Gauguin.

It is widely well-known because it is a typical avant-garde composition with underlying religious themes. It even includes apples and a snake. This oil-on-wood painting is currently housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Vincent van Gogh 

Like many other artists of the modern art movement, the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh painted self-portraits on numerous occasions. 

The most famous one, however, is probably “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear”. Picasso painted this self-portrait shortly after the incident in which the artist cut off his ear in 1889. The painting prominently shows the bandaged wound. This well-known work is currently exhibited in London’s Courtauld Gallery.

Paul Cezanne 

Although Cezanne is famous for his mountainous landscapes and still lifes, this French Post-Impressionist painter also often painted portraits. And some of these portraits were self-portrayals. 

One of his famous portrait paintings is “Self-Portrait”. It features Cezanne’s distinctive type of brushstrokes and also his unique use of color. This self-portrait is housed in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

Salvador Dali 

The Spanish artist and Surrealist Salvador Dalí approached the way he portrayed himself very unconventionally. For example, in 1941, he portrayed himself in “Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon”. 

The painting depicts a piece of bacon beside a structure with no shape but a human face, propped up with crutches. When you view this painting, you might wonder how this represents the artist, but if you look closely, you will spot Dali’s upturned mustache on the face. This surreal self-portrait of Dali is housed in the Dalí Theatre-M.


Although the reasons why painters create self-portraits have changed over the years, most painters have created at least one self-portrait, usually more than once, during their lifetime. And artists are still creating self-portrayals and will probably always be doing it. So, generally speaking, art students can learn much about an artist by studying the art portraits of him or herself. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here