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The artist at work

A watercolour of an artist seated, working at a canvas and resting his foot on a pile of books. In the background, his female companion is still asleep in bed whilst an unguarded infant pours a drink from a bottle. A second infant sits in front of a fire,

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.

Eduard Jakob von Steinle (1810-86)

Saint Luke painting the Virgin

Attributed to Guercino (Cento 1591-Bologna 1666)

St Luke painting the Virgin and Child

Pietro de' Pietri (1663-1716)

Apelles painting Campaspe

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)

The Chamber of Genius

Circle of Benozzo Gozzoli (Florence c. 1421/22-Pistoia 1497)

A young man drawing, and a sleeping dog

Annibale Carracci (Bologna 1560-Rome 1609)

A young man drawing

Antonio Maria Zanetti the Elder (1680-1767)

A self-portrait in carnival costume, sketching

After Girolamo Savoldo (c. 1480-1548)

A Man in Armour

Emma Gaggiotti Richards (1825-1912)

Portrait of the artist

Anton Graff (1736-1813)


Leopoldo Dumini (active 1893)

Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842)

Follower of Jacopo Bassano (c. 1510-1592)

A Painter's Self-Portrait

After John Vanderbank (1694-1739)

Michael Rysbrack

After Philippe Mercier (1689-1760)

A self-portrait of Philip Mercier

After Francis Cotes (1726-70)

Paul Sandby

After Sir William Beechey (1753-1839)

David Wilkie

Johan Joseph Zoffany (Frankfurt 1733-London 1810)

The Academicians of the Royal Academy

Johan Joseph Zoffany (Frankfurt 1733-London 1810)

The Tribuna of the Uffizi

Roberts, William Patrick (1895-1980)


Paul Sandby (1731-1809)

A young woman painting

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)

The Sculptor

Soukop, Willi (1907-1995)

A sculptor in his studio

Previously attributed to Claude Gellée, called Le Lorrain (1604/5-82)

A Landscape with Ruins

Claude Gellée, called Le Lorrain (1604/5-82)

An artist drawing from a statue

Andrew Robertson (1777-1845)

Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841)

Johann Heinrich Ludwig Möller (1814-1885)

Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).

Philip Jean (1755-1802)

Paul Sandby (1731-1809)

Giovanni Francesco Cipper (b. c. 1670 active 1705-36)

An Artist in his Studio

Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935)

Self-portrait with cinematographic camera

Alfred Emile Leopold Stevens (1823-1906)

A Girl in Pink Leaning on a Chair