10 Selfies in Art History That Put Yours to Shame

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Happy International Selfie Day! Thanks to DJ Rick McNeely - of Fishbowl Radio Network fame - June 21st has become the one day we don’t have to cringe quite as much when we take or see someone taking a selfie, and are encouraged to share a little self love (except when there’s a selfie stick involved. No one gets a free pass in that case).

While it may seem as though the selfie is a recent phenomenon of our millennial culture, there were plenty of self-obsessed artists who did the same thing decades and even centuries before: Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt are some of the most famous. Rembrandt alone must have had a self-obsession that rivals the likes of Kim Kardashian, as he painted over 90 portraits of himself during his lifetime.


In celebration of the selfie and all its glory, here are 10 awesome selfies in art history that'll put your selfies to shame.


10. Self-portrait, Rembrandt, 1628

This is the first of the prolific selfie king’s 90 self portraits. The light and shadow beautifully contour his face, and his expression creates an air of mystery and intrigue. Perhaps he’s pondering philosophy, or the plight of the artist... or maybe he’s thinking about how he still has 89 left to go.


9. Self-Portrait with Fur-Trimmed Robe, Albrecht Dürer, 1500

Giving off some serious Game of Thrones vibes, Albrecht Dürer paints himself fabulously in a luxurious fur coat. Thought to be one of the most arrogant self portraits ever created, the inscription translates to something like: “Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremburg, painted myself with indelible colours at the age of 28 years.” Take that, Kanye.


8. Self-Portrait Hesitating Between Painting and Music, Angelica Kauffman, 1794

Much like a college freshman deciding on a major, Angelica Kauffman couldn't decide if she wanted to pursue art (personified on the right) or music (personified on the left). I think we all know which one she decided to go with in the end. But Music was supportive and understanding, evidenced by their intertwined hands. #squadgoals


7. N.Y. (Self-portrait), Yoshitomo Nara, 2002

Okay, maybe this one isn’t too far back in history, but it’s still an interesting selfie. Who needs things like skin texture, dimension, or other visually identifiable information when you have the good old eyes, nose dots, and mouth? Yoshitomo Nara understood that sometimes keeping things simple is the best way to stand out in a crowd.


6. Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

You know that friend who sometimes posts weird things on social media like vague quotes, conspiracy stories, and endless baby pictures? Or maybe like pictures of their bandaged ear that they cut off while they were feeling a bit perturbed? No? Okay, maybe it’s just Van Gogh, then.


5. Self-Portrait With a Sunflower, Anthony van Dyck, 1633

What's that icy thing hangin' 'round his neck? That's gold. More specifically, the shiny new gold chain given to van Dyke by his patron, the English monarch Charles I. Everybody loves (and hates) a show-off.


4. Self-Portrait, Judith Leyster, 1633


Judith Leyster wanted to subtly, yet not so subtly, show off a little in this selfie. Much like photos you see of women dressed for the Met Gala, Leyster isn’t exactly wearing the appropriate attire for the activity she’s doing (painting with what looks like a million paintbrushes). Then again, who doesn’t dress up or exaggerate a little when they post on social media?


3.The Broken Column, Frida Kahlo, 1944

Frida Kahlo understands her good angles, and this selfie definitely takes us out of this world (and into the surreal). The symmetry of her body and the column in her torso are striking and uncomfortable. It’s easy to see that the inspiration behind this painting was her recent spinal surgery and the immense pain it caused her. It’s a little late but... #getwellsoon


2. Big Self-Portrait, Chuck Close, 1967-68

“Wait, isn’t this just a normal selfie?” Look a bit more *closely,* my friend, and you’ll realize that this is no ordinary selfie. It’s actually a monstrously sized, meticulously crafted acrylic painting of none other than Chuck Close. This selfie has everything: the the pose, the hipster glasses, the filter, the cropping... 9/10. Minus one point for sexual misconduct allegations.


1.Self-Portrait, Yawning, Joseph Ducreux, 1783


Joseph Ducreux is the guy whose selfies you look up if you want a good laugh. Not a fan of traditional portraiture, he preferred painting funny and theatrical poses like yawning and pointing, and the internet loves him for it. While Chuck Close has the style, Ducreux has the humor and lasting impact. Meme power 10/10!


There you have it: 10 historical selfies that - let’s face it - would probably get more likes on Instagram than yours. This Selfie Day, take a page out of these artists’ books and try drawing or painting an epic picture of yourself. Afterall, the only real way to one up a boss like Joseph Ducreux is to take a selfie with your freshly painted selfie: selfie-ception!



  1. “About Us,” National Selfie Day. Accessed June 19.
  2. Osmond, Susan.“Rembrandt van Rijn: Selected Self-Portraits,” Rembrandt Painting. Jan 2000, Accessed June 19.
  3. “National Selfie Day,” National Day Calendar. Accessed June 19.
  4. Rosenthal, Lisa. “The Look of Van Dyck: The Self-Portrait with a Sunflower and the Vision of the Painter,” CAA Reviews. March 26, 2008. Accessed June 20 2018.
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Alison Smith


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