Gemini Self-Portraits: If Pictures Spoke…
Yes – three of the artists do look as if they are just about to speak to us down the centuries. That is what you’d expect from a Gemini Sun. But I’m not sure any of them are going to say anything too complimentary. More along the lines of – well – I’ll leave that up to your imagination.
Frankly, moody is the word that comes to mind when I look at these people.
The thing that always strikes me about this intense self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) is just how modern he looks. I can imagine running into him at the check out in my local supermarket (dressed in leather). Look at how beautifully he’s drawn his hand.
|Albrecht Dürer, aged 28.|
And speaking of intense hands, here’s Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) having a bit of a moment. You can just imagine him staying up late and looking in the mirror. I think it has some of the neurotic energy of a true air sign freak-out.
Maybe he’s depicting his mad inner twin – that’s a character all Geminis are familiar with. That’s the anarchic, mischievous part of your nature which sometimes just has to be unleashed and allowed to run around for a while. Some of us with a touch of the Geminis have to learn the hard way to do the unleashing in a rather calculating fashion – timing is everything. This picture is also called the Desperate Man.
Gustave Courbet wrote this many years after painting this picture: “I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: ‘He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.'”
These days he’d probably get the label Outsider Artist hung around his neck; back in the 1850s they liked to call him a Realist.
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) also did a lot of self-portraits and here he is looking at himself very beadily. Like Durer, he’s painted his own right hand, which leads me to ask if he was left-handed or ambidextrous. Mercury, Gemini’s ruler, is deft and dexterous.
Gauguin too was famously anarchic – he was pretty much self-taught and before he decided to devote himself to painting full-time he was a stockbroker – for years. He only became a full-time painter when the stockmarket crashed in 1883. Transiting Uranus in Virgo was opposing his natal Pisces Saturn, squaring his Gemini Sun and sextiling natal Jupiter. Effectively, the transiting planet of revolution broke up that mutable Sun-Saturn square.
Eventually, he abandoned his family (five children and a divorce) and took himself off to Tahiti to live more “naturally”. Apparently, he was rather irascible at the best of times, and by the end of his (short) life he was truly a grumpy old man. It’s all in the picture.
And here in another person who had to leave home to become who she was meant to be. Now I have to confess I’m disappointed with this one, because I think Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) is a wonderful painter. I’ve looked for a better self-portrait but clearly she had no need to paint her mirrored self. Interesting.
Like Courbet and Gauguin, she found herself when she stopped painting conventionally, which she certainly had the technique to do well and joined the Salon des Refusés in 1879 – with revolutionary tr Uranus in the 7th squaring her Sun (identity) and her Midheaven (public face). Transiting Uranus can often be a sign of funky people coming into your life and when Uranus went into her seventh house of relationships, she met the painter Edgar Degas, who changed the whole direction of her career, freeing her to create in the way that was right for her.
|Degas’ portrait of Cassat|
This self-portrait is weird because she is not looking at herself. She looks away. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’d used a photograph. It’s a pretty quick sketch but you can see that deft and confident brushtroke on her dress – and what’s more her subtle use of colour in the background. To give you a greater feel of her perky personality I’ve included this affectionate portrait by Edgar Degas (Cancer) with whom she had a lifelong friendship. Interestingly, she appears to be holding photographs in the picture. Degas was passionate about the new way of seeing – photography.
Finally, one more maverick. Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), like Gauguin, had two jobs. His day job was in the customs office, which he eventually gave up to become an artist full time. Rousseau was never much appreciated by fellow artists in his own lifetime, but his influence cascaded down the generations. There are a few qualities that you can see in this portrait which are both Geminian and very him.
Every Rousseau painting seems to be telling a story; a story you might not quite know but it’s on the edges of your mind, somewhere just beyond. And that makes your imagination stretch out to catch the tail end of a tale.
His painting was criticized as childish and naive – well, it was and is – and so what? Childish naivete is just the ticket on a rainy afternoon in June.