Million Dollar Faces – Famous Self-portraits

Most famous artists from the past have delved into the expression of self-portraits. Although self-portraits have been made since the earliest times, it was not until the Early Renaissance in the mid-15th century that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work.

Why DID so many famous artists paint self-portraits?

Practice Makes Perfect

In early times this was the best way to master portraiture experience before working with the client.

Calling Cards
Portraiture Artists used self-portraits as a calling card, validating their skills. Much like people today use business cards.

Famous artists could paint themselves into a setting which gave status to where they lived.

Document Their Life

A creative and tedious form of today’s selfies! Artists also wanted to document their life and how they changed over the years. For instance van Gogh painted around 36 self-portraits in only ten years. Rembrandt produced the most self-portraits throughout his career.

Looking Deeper

Picasso had some interesting thoughts as to why he painted self-portraits. He once said “Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?”

To Make Millions of Dollars?

Famous artists that created million dollar self-portraits probably never dreamed that someday their portraits would sell for millions. If only they knew at the time!

The following 5 famous self-portraits have sold for millions.

Andy Warhol Famous self portrait fetches millions

“Self-portrait” by Andy Warhol Sold for $27.5 Million

Andy Warhol’s stark red-on-black Self-Portrait, sold for $27.5 Million in 2011. Created with acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, the painting measures almost 9 square feet. It was created toward the end of his life in 1986 and shows the artist, with hair spiked, looking directly at the viewer.

Self-Portrait Yo Picasso" by Picasso Sold for $47.9 Million

Picasso’s “Self-Portrait Yo Picasso” by Picasso Sold for $47.9 Million in 1989

Painted in June 1901, Yo Picasso is the first of that year’s three self-portraits and shows the 19-year old Picasso viewing himself with pride and confidence. Over the years Picasso’s style developed and his self portraits became more abstract.

Was this van Goghs last self portrait

“Portrait of an Artist Without His Beard” by Vincent by van Gogh

Painted in 1889, “Portrait of an Artist Without His Beard” sold for $71.5 million in 1998 in New York City. It was the second highest price for a van Gogh at auction and the third highest price for any artwork ever sold at auction.

What made van Gogh’s “Portrait of an Artist Without His Beard” so unique was that it was the only self-portrait he painted of himself without a beard, and it is said to be his last self-portrait. He painted the picture for his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus van Gogh, for her 70th birthday while he was in an asylum. He wanted to reassure her that we was doing fine. Ironically he committed suicide soon after.

Self Portrait with Monkey" by Frida Kahlo Sold for $1 Million

“Self Portrait with Monkey” by Frida Kahlo Sold for $1 Million

Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s most famous woman artist is best known for her self-portraits that express the emotional effects of pain, loss and tragedy in her life. This self-portrait painted in 1940 was painted during Frida’s one year divorce from her husband Diego. The stance in the painting is direct and serious. Purchased by “Madonna” in the late 1980’s, she has collected several of Frida’s Paintings. Read more here on other famous Frida paintings.

Max Beckmann painted "Self-portrait with Hunting Horn" in 1938

Self-portrait with Hunting Horn by Max Beckmann

German artist Max Beckmann painted “Self-portrait with Hunting Horn” in 1938 while he was in exile in Amsterdam after the Nazis branded him a degenerate artist.

The painting fetched 22.5 million in 2001.

In “Self-Portrait with Hunting Horn”, Beckmann depicts himself alone in a confined, narrow space holding a Waldhorn (a German hunting horn) in his left hand and wearing a black-and red-striped housecoat. The eerie contrasts of the painting tell a much deeper story, the German horn which was used as a symbol of romanticism in German art and literature.

While there are many million dollar faces, these are a few that show the variety that past famous portrait artists have produced.

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