2/12/2013

Self Portraits: Jan van Eyck

Julia Watson has chosen Portrait of a Man, also often known as Portrait of a Man in a Turban by the early Netherlandish master Jan van Eyck as her favorite self-portrait. It should be noted that although this painting is widely believed to be a self-portrait, this has not been proven beyond doubt.  


Jan van Eyck Self Portrait (?) 10"x7.5" oil on panel 1433

Here are Julia's thoughts about this painting:
I've noticed that my tastes in art have changed over the years.  Paintings I used to love are now overshadowed by ones I've discovered recently.  Renoir used to be one of my favorite painters but I wouldn't say that now, and when I was younger I probably wouldn't have liked "Portrait of a Man" by Jan Van Eyck. Now that I'm older I list it as one of my favorite paintings.  It does just what I think a good painting should do - makes me say "Oh, wow!"  
That's my reaction when I see it, and it has nothing to do with analyzing the painting for composition, color, brushstrokes or any of that technical stuff.  I simply see the painting and instantly like it (and by the way, that's what all art comes down to).  But when I look longer at this painting and begin to think about it, I do notice that its composition and color are masterful. The red turban, with its intricate folds and shadows, is beautifully painted.  But it is especially striking because of its contrast to the face.  All that smooth crimson cloth is so different from the face - neither young nor unlined, it's the face of an aging man who gazes at the viewer with a confidant, almost arrogant stare.   A mass of dark surrounds the head; in fact almost half the painting is dark and featureless, which emphasizes the importance of the face and red turban.  This is a masterful arrangement. 
The man in the portrait is thought to be Van Eyck himself.  Van Eyck lived from approximately 1395 to 1441 - the dates are uncertain.  He's often called the father of oil painting (although he didn't invent the medium) because of he developed techniques using thin glazes of oil paint that resulted in luminous colors. 
This is a small painting - about 10 x 8" - and it belongs to the National Gallery in London.  Now that I'm older, and a painter, I can appreciate both the aging face in the picture and the astonishing accomplishment of the artist who painted it.   
Thank you Julia Watson!

Have some favorite self-portraits by other artists you'd like to share? Please email your suggestion (not your own work please) with a few words to describe why you like it. Be sure to include the title, medium, size and year.

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