Reflecting on the Portrait.
One way of making a portrait seem introspective is to introduce a mirror into it. This mirror-portrait can usually be split into two classes: a portrait of somebody who is situated next to a mirror; or a self-portrait with an actual or implied mirror. Two examples of the first class are Edward Burne-Jones’s portrait of his daughter Margaret and Ambrose McEvoy’s The Ear Ring of 1912 (above). Examples of the second include Mark Gertler’s Self-Portrait, and many of William Orpen’s self-portraits which play with doubling and distortion. And the mirror in the self-portrait immediately puts one in mind of the artist’s studio because it is a prop used during the act of painting the self. In his essay on self-portraits and the studio, Giles Waterfield uses the phrase- “self-framing” since as Waterfield says , such mirroring apparatuses gave the artist the opportunity to show reflections that reflect the artist’s reflections on himself, (The Artist’s Studio, 13). This sub-genre can be traced back to Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait of 1524, painted just after he arrived in Rome. In this virtuosic and somewhat arrogant demonstration of painting, Parmigianino shows himself reflected in a convex mirror. Richard Brilliant has called this image a “tour-de force of contradictory illusion, self-deception, and abortive alienation”, (Portraiture, 157). And he goes on to say that in this instance the spectator is made to feel that in looking at the mirror image he is intruding into the apparently reciprocal relation between the artist and the mirror; the large hand might act as barrier between the viewer and studio space. A more famous example of the renaissance mirror occurs in Jan Van Eyck’s celebrated Arnolfini Portrait in which the artist may be shown deep in the mirror witnessing the wedding of the Arnolfini couple in the room. This mirror may have been the inspiration for another self-framing image: Mark Gertler’s Still Life with Self-Portrait of 1918. Here, the Bloomsbury Group artist shows himself painting in a mirror; the still-life he is representing stands below the mirror, and Gertler shows his studio reflected again in the bottle in the inanimate group. A curious feature here is the looming Japanese figure, which may not only betray Gertler’s interest in Oriental art but suggest his impending doom- he gassed himself in his London studio in 1939 after having attempted suicide on a previous occasion.