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Portrait of the Artist
This exhibition is in the past. View our current exhibitions.

The artist at work

The Chamber of Genius©

Some of the earliest images of artists 'at work' take the form of St Luke painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary, or Apelles painting the courtesan Campaspe for Alexander the Great. Both were popular subjects for artists during the Renaissance, who sometimes introduced a subtle form of self-portraiture by incorporating their own features onto the figure of the artist.

With their rising status from the Renaissance onwards, it became increasingly common for artists to acknowledge their profession within self-portraits. While some chose to show themselves simply with a palette and brushes, others constructed a more elaborate narrative by including their wider studio environment. Occasionally the artist is conspicuously absent from the composition.

The change in surroundings that artists portrayed reflects the change in how they were taught, with academies across Europe in the eighteenth century providing a structured and multidisciplinary training, moving away from the traditional apprenticeship system. Artists also began to take some elements of their working practice outside. Images of artists in the landscape become increasingly common – something that would find full force in the nineteenth century with the aid of foldable easels and portable metal paint tubes.

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