|Art Form||Oil on canvas|
|Keywords||Body Self-Image, Empathy, Individuality|
|Summary||Alice’s Bailly’s "Self-Portrait" takes a traditional three-quarters pose. The artist’s rendition of herself occupies the foreground and is colored in drab hues. One of her elongated and thinned hands holds a brush; the other droops downwards. Dabs of ambiguous color comprise the middle ground of the painting, and an abstract halo of red and green hangs behind the figure’s head. One half of the face is defined and in shadow; the other half that occupies the light is only half-sketched. The background on one side of the figure reveals the corner of the room. On the other side of the image is an abstract blend of colors.|
Self-Portrait makes use of dichotomous contrast in various ways, perhaps to reflect on the mental state of the artist, Alice Bailly. The most poignant example of this contrast is seen in the figure’s face, which spikes menacingly downward into her breast. The face is half-lit, with the darker side possessing greater definition - a decision suggesting that Bailly is somehow more fully realized out of the light, either literally or metaphorically. The face’s one defined eye - another example of defeated symmetry - looks away from the viewer, thereby preventing any easy interaction with the work.
The hands, which point in opposite directions, with one angling towards the ground and the other upwards, offer another instance of pictorial opposition. Their contrasting vectors gain additional significance when one considers them in combination with the amorphous colored halo hanging behind the figure’s head.
Both the hands and halo suggest renaissance painting techniques; the differently directed hands allude to the ancient dichotomy of Plato’s heavenly ideal and Aristotle’s earthly practicality, a philosophical conversation that later influenced the dialogue between Christian theologians on the value of reason (an earthly device) versus faith (a heavenly gift). This dialogue was often represented in Christian art by the direction of characters’ hands. Figures that pointed downwards were understood to espouse reason whereas believers in truth through faith pointed towards the heavens. Regardless of Bailly’s theological intentions, however, for she may have had none, her reference to Renaissance tradition is interesting in and of itself because it juxtaposes against the non-traditional style of the self-portrait.
Lastly, the figure’s drab hues contrast with the swirling and vibrant colors of her paint palette, suggesting that the artist’s vibrancy is best found in her artwork and not in her person. The picture as a whole plays with this idea of definition versus abstraction, and invites the viewer to wonder whether Bailly values her work above herself.
|Alternate Source||Possible source in exhibit publication: Alice Bailly: Werke 1908-1923. R. Schwarzwaelder, curator. Wien (Vienna), Gallerie nächst St. Stephan, 1985.|
|Miscellaneous||This work was painted in 1917. During World War I, Bailey began using colored yarn to imitate brush strokes. She won an award for this work, displayed in Paris in 1925. Alice Bailly succumbed to tuberculosis in 1938.|
|Annotated by||Bertman, Sandra L.|
|Date of Entry||01/11/06|