Seurat's Secret Self-Portrait

The only known self-portrait of Georges Seurat has been discovered more than 130 years after he concealed it in one of his last paintings, Young woman powdering herself (around 1888-1890)

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Recent technical examination has revealed that a bust-length self-portrait of Seurat at his easel initially featured in the upper left-hand corner of the painting.

Seurat

The voluptuous sitter in this work was Seurat’s twenty-year-old mistress Madeleine Knobloch.

A long-standing myth surrounding this work stated that in the mirror on the wall was a self-portrait of Seurat in the act of painting Madeleine.

However, a friend, who was unaware of the intimate relationship between the painter and his model, said that it looked comical and Seurat decided to paint over his self-portrait before the painting went on view.

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Thanks to advance in imaging technology, it is now possible to see the layers of paint under the surface and prove that the story is true.

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You can read the full report on ‘Seurat’s Hidden Self-Portrait’ by Aviva Burnstock and Karen Serres in the current issue of the Burlington Magazine.

Artists' Portraits in Print: Print Room Display

Anita Sganzerla, Print and Drawings Study Room Assistant

Over the past few months I have been in charge of setting up a new display in The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Room.

After some thinking, I decided to draw upon The Courtauld’s rich collection of portraits in various print media, and to look at the theme of artists’ portraits.

From this vast subject I selected examples from two series: the Pictorum aliquot celebrium, præcipué Germaniæ Inferioris, effiges (Effigies of some famous painters, especially of Lower Germany; The Hauge, 1610) and the Museum Florentinum exhibens insigniora vetustatis monumenta quae Florentiae sunt (Florentine Museum exhibiting noteworthy monuments of antiquity that are in Florence; Florence, 1731-1766).

The Effigies series was published in The Hague in 1610.  These prints are not all based on existing designs, and some of the artists’ likenesses were commissioned specifically for this series.

In contrast, the Museum Florentinum prints, published in Florence between 1731 and 1766, are reproductions of artists’ self-portraits from the collection of the Medici Grand Dukes in Florence (now part of the holdings of the Uffizi Gallery).

The Print Room display

The Print Room display

I have written two wall panels to provide brief introductions to each series as well as a few observations on selected prints. As my field of research is prints and print culture, I hope I have given some insight into the works as printed objects.

One of my favourite works in the display is the Museum Florentinum print after a Self-portrait by the painter Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585).

Cambiaso represented himself in the act of painting his father and teacher, the artist Giovanni.

Luca Cambiaso, Self-Portrait

Luca Cambiaso, Self-Portrait

We could say that here Luca has created a double self-portrait as the composition shows his face at it looks in the present and also as it will be in old age.

I think that the subtle tonal range of each figure’s facial features are skillfully captured in this print.

Now that the display is up I look forward to people exploring and enjoying it – remember that prints have a lot to say if you take the time to observe them closely.

Find out more about Hendrick Hondius the Elder’s Pictorum aliquot celebrium, præcipué Germaniæ Inferioris, effiges (The Hague, 1610), which contains 68 portrait prints of Netherlandish artists.

 

 If you would like to see Anita’s print display, pay a visit to the Prints and Drawings Room

Spotlight on a Masterpiece: Van Gogh's Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

In the first in a new series of posts, we’ll be uncovering the history, stories and trivia behind masterpieces in The Courtauld’s permanent collection.

This month we are looking at Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear

The artist Paul Gauguin joined van Gogh in the town of Arles in November 1888, to paint together in what van Gogh called the ‘studio of the south’, but they quickly started to quarrel.

Van Gogh had hoped to set up a thriving community of like-minded artists, of which he and Gauguin would be the first.

After an argument with Gauguin in December 1888, van Gogh famously mutilated his ear.

This disagreement signalled the end of van Gogh’s dream, and his disappointment is evident in this stark self-portrait; one of the first paintings he produced after his release from hospital in January 1889.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

Van Gogh’s disagreement with Gauguin was grounded on a dispute over whether the artist should work from nature or from the imagination.

Gauguin felt that an over-reliance on the external world marked a lack of creativity, whilst van Gogh drew rich meanings from his observation of nature.

This particular painting is clearly grounded in observation with the subject illuminated by clear daylight and exposed by contrasting colours and textures, and in this way it differs greatly from Gauguin’s simplified and abstract technique.

Notice the almost blank canvas to the left contrasted against the vibrant Japanese colour print to the right.

Coupled with the prominent bandage over the artist’s ear, this contrast seems to suggest a present fear of creative drought compared with hopeful dreams of the past.

It’s also worth noting that the colours you see today are in fact different from the colours that van Gogh originally chose.

Research at The Courtauld has revealed that the paints used by the artist were so cheap that their colour has gradually changed over the years.