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On “unity in plurality”: about the artist and his face
The portrait has been and still is one of the most frequent themes in paintings and sculptures. It was known as early as in ancient Mexico and Peru, and artists from Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, as well as Greece and Rome were also familiar with this aspect of art. For years it performed manifold functions.

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On “unity in plurality”: about the artist and his face
The portrait has been and still is one of the most frequent themes in paintings and sculptures. It was known as early as in ancient Mexico and Peru, and artists from Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, as well as Greece and Rome were also familiar with this aspect of art. For years it performed manifold functions. First of all, it was saved from oblivion: it was like amber where the image of a strong ruler, a beautiful woman, a great thinker, or a talented artist was forever preserved. It also conveyed propaganda messages and, with the help of certain attributes, informed the viewers whom they were meeting in the painting. The self-portrait is a specific form of a portrait, hence its development was parallel to the development of the portrait.
For centuries artists remained in the shadows of their patrons. The situation started to change slowly together with the disappearance of the notion of the creator as a craftsman. Self-portraits were usually not made upon order, so they often have this intimate and private character. The artist was accompanied by his working tools. They could have allowed the viewers to peer into their studio or house.
When we see a grey cardboard with an image made with pastels and signed “Witkacy,” what first comes to mind is the “S.I. Witkiewicz Portrait Company.” The company was basically founded for the recipients, for all those who wished to order their portrait from a well-known and slightly eccentric painter. This is clearly manifested by the Company’s Regulations. “Motto: The Client must be satisfied. All misunderstandings are out of the question. The Regulations are printed so as to save the company the necessity to say the same things over again.” The artist presented his offer in a dozen or so paragraphs in an intelligible and witty way. He proposed several types of portraits (marked from A to E), set the conditions in which a “session” could be held, and then quoted the rates for each of the proposed types.
The collections from the Tatra Museum have three self-portraits of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, including one that depicts the artist in the company of two of his friends. The discussed painting dates back to July 1930. When signing his image, Witkacy used the notions mentioned in the Regulations (he stated the type as C). Moreover, he announced the consumption of a substance that could have affected the shape of depiction (valerian, among others).
“In paintings I am now a psychological portrait painter and not an artist, as I understand it, that is a creature constructing some form. Having once left psychology in my compositions, I have stumbled onto it again. I abandoned oil painting 12 years ago because during the war I did not have the opportunity to work with this technique for very long. Now I work with charcoal, pencil, chalk and pastels”. Self-portraits differ from other images made by the Company upon order. One may say that the artist has more freedom here. He did not have to concentrate on the achievement of the best combination of physical similarity and internal mood – just a few strokes, a limited colour scheme that attracts attention with a combination of black, fiery red, intensive yellow and pink. The lines are nervous, even tangled at some places. On the one hand, the portrait is a sort of dreamy vision. The face is hanging in grey, outlined by the red-and-black contour, casting yellow and white rays on the left. On the other hand, it is a mask. The intensively red mouth and cheeks are evocative of a carnival costume.
Witkacy enjoyed putting on various masks and creating look-alikes. He even sent his wife Jadwiga letters written by his alleged assistant. In the portraits one can find signatures of Witkacy, Witkacjusz, Witkasiewicz..., but who knows which is the true one? Maybe they all are. In fact, everyone has several masks, several look-alikes...and each costume is fitted to a different occasion.

Elaborated by Julita Dembowska (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved

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Self-portraits and “selfie” fashion ... The puzzle of the self-portrait

Currently, there is a fashion for self-portraits, popularly called selfies. Anyone can take them — using not even a camera — just a telephone. There is a narcissistic craving in us to show and see our own images. Once, creating a self-portrait was a process. Self-portraiture created the possibility of immortalising one’s image, while fulfilling the function of a tool of self-knowledge and self-reflection.

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Currently, there is a fashion for self-portraits, popularly called selfies. Anyone can take them — using not even a camera — just a telephone. There is a narcissistic craving in us to show and see our own images. Once, creating a self-portrait was a process. Self-portraiture created the possibility of immortalising one’s image, while fulfilling the function of a tool of self-knowledge and self-reflection. This served to explore one’s “I”, to encode information about oneself or play some kind of game with convention … to hide behind an image (Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz). This took various forms. An example of a multiple self-portrait is the painting by Pola Dwurnik: Mercy!. Out of the crowd outlined in the background, twenty-four images of the artist emerge; she is in a different mood and mental state in each.
The earliest known self-portrait was probably created in Egypt, around 2650 BC (Ni-ankh-Ptah). Self-portraiture was a rare phenomenon in antiquity (the self-portrait of Phidias, on the shield of Athena Parthenos, in the Parthenon in Athens). The Middle Ages saw the creation of idealized self-portraits; the author often painted himself as an individual assisting in a religious scene. An independent self-portrait appeared in the Renaissance as a result of raising the artist’s prestige and increasing the role of human individuality. According to the humanism of the Renaissance, the artist had become someone special, which is why artists often painted themselves turned towards the viewer (e.g. Albrecht Dürer).
Many artists painted self-portraits almost all their lives, thus creating cycles of their likenesses, including, among others, Olga Boznańska and Stanisław Wyspiański. In the case of Olga Boznańska, self-portraits are not only a reflection of the passage of time, but also the changing personality of the artist. The self-portrait of Józef Mehoffer is a faithful record of mood and moment; it reflects the intimate nature of the situation. One can even have the impression that it has the form of a sketch. Julian Fałat chose an unusual form of self-portrait; by blending his effigy into the Kraków panorama, Jan Matejko painted his self-portrait on a painting base in the shape of a circle.
Artists reveal themselves in a variety of different ways. It is typical to be presented at work, in a studio, or with family or friends (Stanisław Wyspiański with his wife). It also happens that they present themselves as historical, biblical, or mythological figures (Maurycy Gottlieb). The true master of this manner of self-presentation was Jacek Malczewski, author of the greatest number of self-portraits in the history of Polish art. Looking at them, it is hard not to suspect him of narcissism, but maybe this is just a sophisticated game with the viewer, a kind of planned show?
More self-portraits by Jacek Malczewski can be found in the following photo gallery: http://mnk.pl/fotogalerie/autoportrety-jacka-malczewskiego.

 

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Painting “Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz self-portrait”

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Obraz „Autoportret” Stanisława Ignacego Witkiewicza Tells: Piotr Krasny
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Obraz „Autoportret” Stanisława Ignacego Witkiewicza [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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