Frida Kahlo said she painted self-portraits because she was the person she knew best. Francis Bacon said he did it when he had no-one else to paint; Van Gogh often found himself in a similar circumstance. Between them, they produced some of the world’s most remarkable and iconic images of self.
These days, the job of producing a self-portrait is no longer the sole preserve of artists. Selfies and online avatars abound. As a result, our interest in the images we make of ourselves and the self-images made by those around us has never been more acute. Never have more self-portraits been brought into being, or disseminated.
At the University of Limerick, a zeitgeist-y treasure-trove of self-representations by Irish artists represents something of a hidden gem. The National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland began with 15 works in 1983 and now numbers more than 500 pieces. Works by famous and art historical names hang cheek-by-jowl with those by emerging and lesser known artists in a delightful, if somewhat haphazardly arranged, celebration of the very notion of producing a self-portrait.
There are more traditional, painted works by Louis le Brocquy, Donald Teskey, Ann Quinn, Comghall Casey and Vera Klute; photographs, drawings, sculptures and mixed media pieces by Alice Maher, Vivienne Dick, Michael Canning, Robert Ballagh, Gary Coyle, Eilis O’Connell, Nigel Rolf, Gerard Dillon and the Irish Times cartoonist Martin Turner. Other artists represented include Les Levine, Dorothy Cross, Michael Kane, Una Sealy, Michael Farrell, Gabhann Dunne, John Noel Smith, Basil Blackshaw, Martin Gale and Imogen Stuart. It’s a wide-ranging, important collection, now added to yearly by invitation, commission, donation and bequest.
Over 400 of the works are on permanent, public display, free of charge at the college. Here’s a selection of some of the best. And you can see more images from the collection online here.