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A Face to the World: On Self Portraits

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  127 ratings  ·  12 reviews
Focusing on the art of self-portraiture, this effortlessly engaging exploration of the lives of artists sheds fascinating light on some of the most extraordinary portraits in art history.

Self-portraits catch your eye. They seem to do it deliberately. Walk into any art gallery and they draw attention to themselves. Come across them in the world's museums and you get a stra
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 25th 2009 by HarperPress
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4.18  · 
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 ·  127 ratings  ·  12 reviews

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Gorgeously written! Although I only needed the chapters focusing on particular self-portraits and artists, I ended up reading the entire book: it reads like a really good historical novel!
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Far More than an Important Art History Book: A Brilliant Historical Novel!,

Laura Cumming, in addition to being the art critic of the distinguished British journal The Observer, is a learned communicator and extraordinary writer. Given that she has been influential in the grace of productions offered by the Tate Museum while at the same time being able to be arts producer and presenter for BBC, she comes by her depth of knowledge about the visual arts naturally - and at the same time communicate
Jee Koh
Dec 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Why do artists paint self-portraits, Cumming asks, and so expose themselves and their art to the accusation of narcissism? Her answer is that self-portraits "make artists present as the embodiment of their art" and they often do so to ask who this person is who is looking back from the mirror. Cumming's book is a series of linked essays, roughly chronological in order, from Jan Van Eyck to Cindy Sherman, focusing mostly on paintings.

A mighty gallery of artists are discussed under rubrics such a
Rachel C.
This book could really have benefited from a more thoughtful layout. Each portrait should have appeared on the page (or facing page) where it's first described. I did a lot of flipping back and forth that really broke the rhythm of the text.

As for the text, Laura Cumming certainly had her moments of insight and clarity but overall I found the prose a touch dry. The artists that came to life the most for me were Dürer, Courbet, David and Van Gogh.

"Self-portraits catch your eye. They seem to be do
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I know it's an odd thing to say about an art book, but this makes an exhilarating read. Laura Cumming is a terrific writer on her subject - erudite without being heavy-handed, witty without being facetious - and both her arguments and style are immensely persuasive. The book is both an historical tour and an explication of the many forms which self-portraiture has taken, mainly in painting, but also photography. There are particularly fine chapters on Duerer and Van Gogh, with well- chosen illus ...more
Catherine Austen
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved this book. Each chapter looks at a different artist, and what their self-portraits might suggest. Well-written, informative and provocative without ever being out of reach for someone like me who really doesn't know much about art history.
Andrea Engle
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-read-2016
An in-depth, semi-chronological analysis of the artists' self-portraits ... beginning with Jan van Eyck and finishing up with Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud ... fascinating for its insights and wide range of artists ...
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: educate-me, hobbies
I found this very satisfying. It was like having a wonderful gossip session with an art historian friend. So, I felt like I was learning a little bit and having a lot of fun.
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Laura Cumming (born July 1961) the art critic for The Observer. In addition to her career in journalism, Cumming has written well-received books on self-portraits in art and the discovery of a lost portrait by Diego Velázquez in 1845.