For as long as people have been making art, they have been portraying themselves and others. Portraits can be literal, realistic representations or they can be interpretive, symbolic. By the turn of the 20th century, photography had become the most accessible and popular medium for portraiture. As though photography freed them from the burden of producing realistic depictions, many late-19th and early-20th-century artists began exploring new ways to represent people.

Many artists sought to represent the character and psychology of their sitters; similarly, in their self-portraits, they aimed to communicate something of their innermost selves. If they were familiar with their sitter, they might seek to express their relationship to him or her. Their interest in the subjective and emotional, coupled with their desire to break with the traditions of the past, led these artists to make formal innovations that would radically alter the genre of portraiture.


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