Self-Portraits by Female Artists at London’s National Portrait Gallery

Everlyn Nicodemus, Jälvporträtt, Åkersberga, 1982

The National Portrait Gallery in London is closed for renovations. The institution bought five self-portraits by female artists. This is a part of a three-year project. It`s aimed to increase the representation of women artists in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

The acquisition includes the first self-portrait of a black woman in the gallery’s collection, Självporträtt Everlyn Nicodemus, Åkersberga, 1982. In the picture, the personalities of Nicodemus converge as an artist, woman, mother, and wife. Speaking of her work for The Guardian, the UK-based Tanzanian artist called the work “a form of psychological survival.”

Everlyn Nicodemus is the subject of an upcoming solo exhibition at the Richard Saltoun Gallery. Among the National Portrait Gallery’s latest acquisitions is a painting by Rose Finn-Kelsey, a major figure in British contemporary artist who has had a playful feminist practice spanning performance, installation, photography, and sculpture.

Rose Finn-Kelcey, The Restless Image: a discrepancy between the seen position and the felt position, 1975.

Her self-portrait, Preparatory Study for A Divided Self, shows her mirror images of herself immersed in conversation while sitting on a bench in London’s Hyde Park. In Chila Kumari Burman’s 1988 self-portrait Socially Created Aphrodisiacs, the artist also plays two different roles simultaneously: a young woman and a warrior.

Conceptual artist Susan Hiller’s work, Ace (Retried), belongs to a series of self-portraits inspired by photo booth images, where the artist’s face is reproduced many times with slight variations in a pose in each image. By contrast, Celia Paul’s “Portrait with Downcast Eyes” is the only melancholy image of herself.

Her face is shown yellowed and haggard, and her eyes seem to wander in contemplation. The work was created as part of a series of self-portraits that debuted alongside her 2019 memoir, in which the artist recounts her life and collaboration with Lucian Freud.

Paul was a frequent muse of the famous domineering Freud. In her memoirs, she reflected on how to regain her power through portraiture. The act of sitting is not passive,” she wrote. She also added that “I am now my own subject.”


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