Cancer Self-portraits

Saturday July 16th 2011
Rembrandt July 15, 1606
Rubens June 28, 1577

You know what – there seem to be more artists born in Cancer month than at any other time of year. You will see  what I mean when you scroll down the page. A lot got left out. For example, Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862)  prided himself on leaving no self-portraits behind, so he’s not here today. And he was a dab hand with a brush.

Of today’s crop Frida Kahlo, Rembrandt and David Hockney were and are also  exceptionally prolific self-portraitists, which has meant even more to choose from. Interestingly, Kahlo looks pretty much the same in all her pictures – they are like icons of herself – whereas with Rembrandt’s portraits you can trace his aging from fresh-faced stripling to care-worn old man. Hockney’s are an on-going experiment in ways of seeing and representing what he sees.

The thing I love about self-portraits is the gaze. And I think some of the painters have succeeded in revealing the soul in their eyes more vividly than almost anyone else. I’m thinking especially of Hopper, Rembrandt, Degas and Chagall here – all of whom seem to gaze with such limpid intensity. But equally Wyeth and Modigliani remain hidden. Both of them of course are famous for painting women stripped bare.

Edgar Degas July 19, 1834.
What a master of colour!

One of the things about this exercise is that it has made me look at certain artists with fresh eyes. I noticed at once that several of the (widely acknowledged) greatest colourists of all time have Cancer Suns – Rubens, Degas, Hockney. This made me think again about Frida Kahlo’s use of colour, which is, now I look again, superb.

So I do ask myself what is it with the Sun in Cancer?

This is the fourth sign of the Zodiac so we are still in the quadrant of the self. It’s still all about me. And as a water sign, of course, it’s about the emotional me. It’s also a cardinal sign. Cardinals are doers. That emotional me needs to be expressed.

The question most likely to be asked by a Cancer Sun is “How do I feel?” With each of  Rembrandt’s self-portraits, you can almost see him asking himself that question.

Frida Kahlo’s work is entirely an exploration of herself and her lacerated emotional world. She’s a big influence on the contemporary artist Tracey Emin whose emotional world is on full-frontal display at the Hayward gallery in London this summer. Both women are particularly fascinated by their own bodies, which would seem rather earthy, but in fact their art is an outpouring of their ragged emotions.

But the emotions don’t always have to be screaming. Hopper was also, of course, exploring emotions in his work – loneliness for one. And Chagall‘s entire output (nearly) was devoted to an especially Cancerian emotion – nostalgia.

James MacNeill Whistler, also July 19, 1834.
The more you look at this portrait, the odder it is
Edward Hopper July 22, 1882. Soft features, soulful eyes
Modigliani, July 12, 1884
Marc Chagall (brooding, soulful)  July 6, 1887
Giorgio Morandi (where are the bottles?) July 20, 1890
Frida Kahlo July 6, 1890. Apparently her Moon was at 29 degrees and a bit Taurus, but I wonder…
Andrew Wyeth, July 12, 1917. Again the more
you look the stranger it is.
David Hockney, July 7 1937
Chuck Close in 2000. (July 5, 1940)
  • Tracey Emin (July 3, 1963)

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  1. Isy Aweigh says:

    /nummy noises/

    Your eye for art makes my world better.

  2. Christina says:

    I love those crab boys and girls. They really make me wish I had a bit more of the cancer in my own chart. oh well

  3. ann says:

    (repost of my previous comment.) wow- i definitely feel loved after reading your post. i am a crab and i paint too. you can check out my madness here–> hehehhe


  4. Anonymous says:

    I see no June Cancers in this list. Are there any, among the accomplished artists?

  5. Christina says:

    @ Ann – sorry I couldn’t post your comment sooner. I was away this weekend “boving” stag. or is it boving at stag.

    I hope you feel loved by this post; you should. More crab artists than any other sun sign.

    @Anon – I’ll have to investigate June. I’m sure there are.

  6. Blanka says:

    and how about the moon in cancer…Vincent van Gogh…there is no escaping the ‘mirror’ of lune/loon

  7. Anonymous says:

    Is it just me or does the Rembrandt resemble Johnny Cash in his later years? Amazing collection.

  8. […] To read last year’s piece and get an eyeful of gorgeous portraits by artists with the Sun in Cancer, click here. […]