Rembrandt's Self Portrait in the National Gallery
Artists usually paint themselves well dressed, happy, sitting at an easel, working. In this painting, however, Rembrandt looks inexpressibly sad, timeworn, and defeated. While everything else is in shadow, the face is illuminated as if it attracts all the light. His face is softening with age; his unruly hair is tinged with gray. His eyes look out, capturing and pinning me the moment I enter the gallery. I feel as if I had disturbed him while he was painting.
Rembrandt made a self-portrait almost every year of his life, beginning about age twenty. The early portraits depict a smiling, self-confident, prosperous Rembrandt. These were probably intended to be advertisements of his skill to attract commissions. Clearly this painting was not designed to attract commissions. Perhaps this painting's intent was to capture a more honest, uncensored truth of the artist's life. He could have made himself look however he wanted, but he chose this somber pose.