In Touch with Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraits Then and Now

Frances Borzello, Seeing Ourselves - Women's Self Portraits, 2018, Thames & Hudson



Frances Borzello charts the history of the female self-portrait, from well-mannered paintings of the past to the contemporary works included in Close: Drawn Portraits, which capture bodily sensations and psychological states.

‘I realise that lots of things that bother me about life have fed into the books I have written about art. A concern with the built in unfairness that faces many social groups and a fascination with those who succeed against the odds has directed my subjects, from the education of the women artists of the past to the ways they found to speak out about themselves through their self-portraits in societies which valued modesty as a female virtue’ – Frances Borzello

The first identifiable female self-portraits date from the sixteenth century. Frances Borzello considers whether the self-portraits by contemporary female artists included in Close: Drawn Portraits – Virginia Chihota, Claudette Johnson, Maria Lassnig, Deanna Petherbridge, Paula Rego and Nicola Tyson – have anything in common with the sedate and well-mannered paintings of the past. Charting societal changes that have prompted many of these artists to prioritise the capture of bodily sensation over physical appearance, the talk will also delve into the particular attributes of drawn, as opposed to painted portraits, which provide the majority of historical examples.

Frances Borzello is a writer on the social history of art. Her most recent book, Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits (2018, Thames and Hudson) is a survey that begins with self-portraits in medieval illuminated manuscripts and finishes with the modern period and its abandonment of taboos in the work of artists such as Alice Neel, Marlene Dumas and Maria Lassnig. ‘One of the intriguing pleasures of this book is that it shows female artists from the 16th century onwards manipulating their own images as knowingly and skilfully as any modern spin-doctor, and often with more cheek’ (Observer). Other titles include A World of Our Own: Women as Artists Since the Renaissance and The Naked Nude.