Cancer Self-portraits

Saturday July 16th 2011
Artemisia Gentileschi, July 8, 1593. Just brilliant. Also look at the shape her arms are making.

Artemisia Gentileschi, July 8, 1593. Just brilliant. Also look at the shape her arms are making.

I don’t draw like nobody. You speak one way, but I come on and say it different. You can draw a mule, dog, cat, or a human person, I’m going to draw it different.
Because you always see things different.”
— Nellie Mae Rowe, Cancerian artist

Rubens June 28, 1577

Cancerian artists seem to be more obsessive self-portraitists than any others. You will see  what I mean when you scroll down the page.

Of today’s crop Helene Schjerfbeck, 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. Schjerfbeck’s portraits become more and more abstract, disconnected, emotional, as she ages.

 

 

Rembrandt July 15, 1606

Rembrandt July 15, 1606

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, Kollwitz, Degas and Chagall here – all of whom seem to gaze with such limpid intensity. But equally Rowe, Wyeth and Modigliani remain hidden. Wyeth and Modigliani were, of course, known for their nudes.

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. And as for Nellie Mae Rowe! Have a look at some of her other work, but you can see the intense indigo in this self-portrait sings.

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. Kollwitz was also, of course, exploring emotions in her work – loneliness for one. And Chagall‘s entire output (nearly) was devoted to an especially Cancerian emotion – nostalgia.

Nellie Mae Rowe, July 4, 1900, blending into her crab-shell … a bit like…

James MacNeill Whistler, also July 19, 1834. The more you look at this portrait, the odder it is

James MacNeill Whistler, also July 19, 1834. The more you look at this portrait, the odder it is

 

Andrew Wyeth, July 12, 1917. Again the more you look the stranger it is. And like Rowe and Whistler, he's blending in

Andrew Wyeth, July 12, 1917. Again the more you look the stranger it is. And like Rowe and Whistler, he’s blending in

 

Edward Hopper July 22, 1882. Soft features, soulful eyes

Edward Hopper July 22, 1882. Soft features, soulful eyes

Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz, 8 July 1867

Lotten Rehnquisit, 1 July 1864

Lotten Rehnquisit, 1 July 1864

 

Modigliani, July 12, 1884

 

Marc Chagall (brooding, soulful)  July 6, 1887
Helene Schjerfbeck, July 10, 1862

Helene Schjerfbeck, July 10, 1862. Her self-portraits became more and more abstract through her career. Worth checking out all of them.

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…

Frida Kahlo July 6, 1890. Apparently her Moon was at 29 degrees and a bit Taurus, but I wonder…

Anna Riwkin-Brick, June 23, 1908

 

David Hockney, July 7 1937

David Hockney, July 7 1937

Chuck Close, a face made of thousands of tiny pictures, in 2000. (July 5, 1940)

Chuck Close, a face made of thousands of tiny pictures, in 2000. (July 5, 1940)

Tracey Emin (July 3, 1963)

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–> http://www.lovenlight.co.cc hehehhe

    cheers!
    ann

  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. […]

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