CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Hollandse zelfportretten: Selfies uit de Gouden Eeuw

Dutch self-portraits: Selfies of the Golden Age Exhibition: 8 October 2015 - 3 January 2016

From the museum’s website, 24 February 2015

This is perhaps the genre in which the artist is most vulnerable: the self-portrait. It reveals how the artist presents and views him- or herself, . In the seventeenth century, the genre had an extra meaning, for it was eloquent about the social status and position of the painter. The exhibition The Dutch Self-Portrait dissects the meaning of the genre during the Golden Age. Using about thirty paintings as examples, it presents the various types of self-portraits: for instance, the artist as ‘gentleman of standing’ or as an artisan with painting tools. The self-portrait with tools of the trade, such as an easel and palette, are highlighted during this exhibition. The exhibition presents seventeenth-century self-portraits from Dutch and international collections, together with striking examples from our own collection, such as Rembrandt’s famous last Self-Portrait.

Information from the museum, 7 October 2015

The Dutch self-portrait
Many Dutch artists from the seventeenth century have painted self-portraits, more than in any other country. Some painters were specialists, others have left only one known self-portrait behind. The variation was considerable, with palette and paintbrushes as the most common attributes.

The high amount of self-portraits was entirely related to the increase in painting production at the time. The competition was high, so as a painter, it was all about gaining a good position in the market. The self-portrait could help give you and your work a ‘face’. This made the self-portrait not only a portrait of the painter, but often also a statement about their work.

Selfies of the Golden Age
Self-portraits are extremely popular, thanks to the modern selfie. Using a smartphone, everyone can make a self-portrait and quickly share it with friends and acquaintances. This leads millions of people to regularly think about how they want to present themselves to others.

By looking at the seventeenth-century self-portraits, it is easy to make a comparison with the modern selfie. Still, there is a large difference. Whereas the modern selfie is easily, sometimes even carelessly taken, painting a self-portrait in the seventeenth century required a long training and considerable craftsmanship.

Self-portraits required much attention from the artists. Typically, they are well-painted portraits in which one can see how the painter wanted to present himself to the world. Furthermore, a self-portrait could serve as an example of the painter’s specific abilities, not only his talent in reaching a good resemblance, but also of his skills, for instance in the field of representing fabric: the self-portrait was a business card for the painter.

The exhibition offers a concise overview of the genre. Using twenty-seven paintings, the different types of self-portraits are explained: portraits such as the ‘upper-middle class gentleman’, self-portraits with others (family members), self-portraits with a still life, self-portraits in a role (such as hunter) and self-portraits with trade attributes (palette, brushes, easel).

Amongst the highlights is the Self-portrait by Judith Leyster, one of the most successful female artists of the Golden Age. It comes from the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Leyster laughingly turns towards us while working on the painting of a happy violin player, coming from one of her own compositions.

An especially remarkable piece is the Self-portrait by Huygh Voskuyl, the logo of the exhibition. He looks at us over his shoulder. His hairs spike out from under his hat, his jaws are unshaven and his ruddy moustache is wildly outgrown. His frowning look gives the self-portrait the character of a snapshot, as if he is reacting to our sudden presence.

Carel Fabritius – one of Rembrandt’s most talented students – was about twenty-five years old when he painted the self-portrait in the exhibition. His virtuoso way of painting is reminiscent of his master: the representation is almost sculpted into the painting in some places.

Mirror image
In the exhibition, visitors not only come face to face with legendary painters such as Jan Steen, Rembrandt, Carel Fabritius and Gerrit Dou, but also meet themselves. Thanks to a design with mirror walls, visitors are in the spotlight themselves, which allows them to be constantly aware of their own presentation to the outside world. Using modern selfies, the film that plays in the exhibition room shows the choices that the artists in the seventeenth century faced when making a self-portrait.