A Question of Identity: Self-Portrait Photographs 1850-2000
Past display archive
by Brian Griffin
20 September 2005 - 29 January 2006
This display complements our major SELF PORTRAIT Renaissance to Contemporary exhibition on the ground floor. While that exhibition examines the history and development of the genre of self-portraits in oil paint, this display looks at the more recent history of the portrait photograph. Covering over 150 years, the earliest examples date from the 1850s and feature two from a series of staged tableaux by the sculptor Richard Cockle Lucas. Later works include intimate studies by Madame Yevonde, Lee Miller and Lewis Morley, who portrayed himself with his wife Pat, in a Parisian hotel bedroom.
The play of light and shade is an essential ingredient in photography and is a chief consideration of the works on display here - Lee Miller's face is bathed in a warm glow, John Havinden's right cheek is brought sharply into focus, whilst the mirrors used by Bill Brandt, Harry Borden and Mike McCartney embrace a broader world reflecting the sky.
In addition to the way light affects composition, the actual shapes of these works are of interest. Early oval photographs refer back to the form and practice of miniature painting, whilst the landscape format accommodates the double portrait and a seated profile. There are two square photographs, an unusual format within the art of portraiture, but used to dynamic effect here, juxtaposed against the curve of Mike McCartney's mirror and the hood of Brian Griffin's jacket.
Other images show broader concerns with photographers utilising real interiors and props and costumes, for example Dorothy Wilding's studio with a line-up of her most famous sitters and the Victorian excess of Benjamin Brecknell Turner's parlour. Francis Frith implies foreign travel by recording himself in Arab garb and Madame Yevonde sports a harlequin costume, making the contrasting chequer pattern the focal point of her portrait.
Oliver François Xavier Sarony
by Oliver François Xavier Sarony
Sarah Lucas ('Self-Portrait with Skull')
by Sarah Lucas
Madame Yevonde as Harlequin
by Madame Yevonde
This display coincides with the publication of Insights: Self-Portraits by Liz Rideal. An introduction to the Gallery's collection of self-portraits, including 90 colour reproductions. Price £9.99.
Tudor and Elizabethan matching pairs
Test your memory by playing our matching pairs game. Three levels of difficulty make it fun for the whole family.
Regency familiar faces
Rearrange tiles to uncover sitters from the Gallery's Collection by playing our puzzle game.
Who do you think you were?
Answer a few lifestyle questions about the Elizabethan period and discover your inner Elizabethan!
- Oliver François Xavier Sarony (NPG P613)
- John Havinden (NPG P350)
- Lee Miller (NPG P1082)
- Sarah Lucas ('Self-Portrait with Skull') (NPG P884(8))
- Tracey Emin ('The Last Thing I said to you is don't leave me here. 1') (NPG P879)
- Francis Frith (NPG x13682)
- 'As a Devotee of Art' (Richard Cockle Lucas) (NPG Ax23434)
- 'As a Martyr to the Truth' (Richard Cockle Lucas) (NPG Ax23435)
- Madame Yevonde as Harlequin (NPG x11823)
- Dorothy Wilding (NPG x35930)
- Brian Griffin (NPG x125281)
- Harry Borden (NPG x87889)
- Mike McCartney; Bobby Brown (NPG x88784)
- Bill Brandt (NPG x22409)