Picasso: The Self-Portraits by Pascal Bonafoux - review by James Hall

James Hall

Artist Before a Mirror

Picasso: The Self-Portraits


Thames & Hudson 224pp £30

When we think of Picasso, formal self-portraiture is not a genre that immediately springs to mind. There’s an early flurry starting with the earnest diabolism of Yo Picasso (1901) and ending with the blankly primitivising Self-Portrait with Palette (1906). But beyond that one has to scratch around. Art historians have busied themselves truffling out so-called ‘disguised’ and ‘surrogate’ self-portraits, a pursuit turbocharged by John Richardson’s grandiose psycho-biographies. We had an example at the National Gallery’s recent ‘Picasso Ingres’ exhibition, where the white profile filling the mirror in Woman with a Book (1932) was claimed as Picasso’s own, despite the lack of a close physical match.

The truffling craze partly explains why it has taken this long for anyone to do the basics and catalogue all of Picasso’s bona fide self-portraits. Forty years ago, the art historian Pascal Bonafoux started work on a project to document the self-portraits. This was at the behest of Picasso’s widow, Jacqueline, who was convinced that there were far more than previously assumed. She had come to disbelieve the story, related by the photographer Brassaï, that after Picasso learned of the death of his friend the poet Apollinaire in November 1918 while shaving in front of a mirror, he could no longer bear to look in mirrors and stopped depicting himself (he certainly didn’t stop shaving). Bonafoux has found a grand total of 169 drawings, paintings and photographs that qualify as self-portraits, with paper sketches in the ascendancy. They are all lavishly reproduced here in chronological order, preceded by an eighty-page introductory essay. The result is a fascinating picture book that will be an invaluable resource for scholars.

Self-Portrait with Palette is number 109, which means that Picasso conformed to the tradition of self-portraiture being largely a young person’s enterprise: artists wanted to be seen at their physical best, and when starting out they could not always afford models. They might also die suddenly and wanted

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