Self: Image and Identity – Self-portraiture from Van Dyck to Louise Bourgeois, Turner Contemporary

Artists have been recreating their own image for centuries, from self-advertisement and preserving legacy, to figurative studies, political commentary and biographical exploration, self-representation via portraiture has shaped Western art. In more than 100 artist self-portraits from the 16th century to the present day, from Sir Anthony van Dyck and JMW Turner to recent work by Louise Bourgeois and Yinka Shonibare, this exhibition explores the diverse ways in which artists have chosen to represent their identities. These works give an expansive look at the self-portraiture genre by covering mediums including drawing, painting, sculpture and even film, and derive from institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery as well as public and private international collections.

Central to the exhibition is the last known self-portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Britain’s first “celebrity” artist, Court Painter to Charles I and the most influential portrait painter ever to have worked in Britain. His remarkable Self-portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 2014 and Turner Contemporary will be the first venue in which visitors can see the painting before it embarks on a three year national tour, supported by the Art Fund and HLF.

Taking Van Dyck’s legacy and self-portrait as a starting point, the development of the genre of self-portraiture will be considered in the exhibition through a series of themes including: history, celebrity, collecting, gender, mortality and contemporary approaches. These contemporary works look at modern-day phenomena such as social media and the digital ‘selfie’ and include Jason Evans’s new commission Sound System Self-Portrait, joining work by Louise Bourgeois; John Constable; Tracey Emin; Lucian Freud; Damien Hirst; David Hockney; Angelica Kauffmann, Sarah Lucas, JMW Turner and Gillian Wearing. The works in Self remind us that the self-portrait has remained a potent form of expression for artists since Van Dyck first painted his likeness in a mirror.

Self: Image and identity – self-portraiture from Van Dyck to Louise Bourgeois, 24 January – 10 May 2015, Turner Contemporary, Rendezvous, Margate, CT9 1HG.

1. Yinka Shonibare Self-Portrait (After Warhol)3, 2013 Screen print, digital print and hand painted linen Unique with 1 AP, Copyright the artist. Courtesy Danjuma Collection © Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2014.