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Anton Graff (1736-1813)

Self-Portrait c. 1787

Oil on canvas | 84.3 x 70.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 404425

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  • Known as the Van Dyck of Germany, Anton Graff was a prolific portrait painter. An esteemed member of Prussian society, perched on the threshold between the Enlightenment and Romantic periods, Graff painted many of the most important figures of German history, including Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich von Kleist, Johann Gottfried Herder, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn. Though a great number of his commissions came from the middle classes, Graff's most famous portrait was of the Prussian King Frederick the Great and he also painted the Russian, Polish and Baltic nobility. In 1778 he ended a brief account of his own life with "I owe Berlin much", meaning commissions from the Prussian court.

    Graff is a connoisseur of the face, employing a theatrical, spotlit effect which teases out an enhanced psychology from his sitters. His earlier portraits are painted on monochrome backgrounds devoid of context, but his later works begin to introduce setting and surrounding objects. The emotional intensity of some of his portraiture is seen as proto-Romantic and certainly had an impact on his pupil Philip Otto Runge. Some of his later formal innovations, such as the use of impasto, are said to have had a bearing on Realism and Impressionism.

    Graff's output included over a hundred self-portraits. Berckenhagen explains this preoccupation with his own likeness not as vanity but as a means of self-promotion to patrons and collectors. His self-portraits are diverse in size, style and composition, ranging from modest head-and-shoulder likenesses to large, full-length studio scenes. The majority show the artist either at work or with the attributes of his profession. The current self-portrait, probably acquired by Queen Victoria, shows the artist dressed in a brown frock coat, his head turned over his right shoulder, holding a paintbrush and palette, with the outline of a canvas in the background.

    Other versions of this self-portrait show the artist's palette more clearly and include a cluster of brushes in his left hand. This modest but elegant self-portrait shows the artist in his dual role of practising artisan and elegant nobleman. 


    First recorded in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace in 1852 (no 9) as 'Winkelmann, Portrait of the Painter'.

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    84.3 x 70.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    107.0 x 94.5 x 5.5 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    A Self-Portrait

    Portrait of the artist

    Anton Graff (1736-1813)