Sagittarian Self Portraits: Confident

Tuesday December 20th 2011
Self-portrait with Cat, Lotte Laserstein (Nov.28)

Self-portrait with Cat, Lotte Laserstein (Nov.28)

Truthfulness is a Sagittarius quality — for good or bad. Maybe that is why they make such brilliant self-portraits.

There is the German-Swedish painter Lotte Laserstein with a tabby cat comfortably nestled on her arm. Her gaze is a little sardonic, but quite confident thank you, as perhaps she must have been since she was one of the early female graduates from art school in Prussia.

Here is the Polish painter Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, also looking frankly and with a little humour straight into the viewer’s eyes. She needed that Sagittarian confidence too, since she was one of just a handful of female artists working in Paris at the time.

Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz

Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz (November 8)

Lucien Freud (November 8)

There’s a darkness to Sagittarius. Often it’s hidden behind a bold front – a big belly, a tornado of talk or just loudness.

Sagittarius is the first sign of the zodiac to be represented by a mythical creature, a centaur, half human, half wild. The tutelary deity of this sign is Diana, goddess of the hunt, also half wild. And often Sagittarians seem like that, like half-tame beasts in you drawing room, as they knock over the flowers and insult your partner. They strain at the leash, and civilised like sometimes gets them down – whether or not they know it.

Edvard Munch

Lucien Freud – old, saggy, craggy, wearing a pair of unlaced boots – holds a palette knife in one hand lifted in gesture at the canvas we look at. I think this is his masterpiece. It’s merciless, ugly. He looks at himself and sees man as monster. He’s famous, of course, for his portraits of other people. But those never reveal the character of the sitter; they simply show Freud’s loathing of humanity and his agility with a paintbrush. In this self-portrait, he reveals himself boldly. Did he like himself?

Bernini, 7 Dec

Here is another Sagittarian looming out of the darkness. Edvard Munch saw monsters too. Here he is surrounded by shadows. A while ago I went to a seminar with Frank Clifford who mentioned that he often found Sagittarians, contrary to what you read in the astrology books, were prone to depression.  I have found this too. I know more people with strongly Sagittarian charts who are on prescription drugs or who self-medicate than any other sign except maybe Pisces. This is interesting because both are ruled by the king of jollity, Jupiter. I should add that the two people at the seminar who did have strong Sagittarius in their charts were both perfectly happy and full of benison, which just goes to show that you can use this energy positively or negatively.

One reason for this depressive tendency is that Sagittarius has such high expectations of life’s adventure.

Paul Klee – hardly sees himself
as human at all.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini also emerges from the darkness in this magnificent self-portrait from around 1623. He’s best remembered for his stunning, dynamic sculptures. You are probably familiar with his St Teresa. Here is his interpretation of the Medusa, her beautiful features drawn with pain as she realises her fate. He seemed to have an understanding of the inner beast.

Wassily Kandinsky – an
icon of himself.

And then there’s Sagittarius the professor, the teacher, the lecturer. Probably the most famous art school of the 20th century was the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. It was founded by the architect Walter Gropius in 1919 and closed by the Nazis in 1933. The ideas taught there still influence the way we see the world and are taught about art today.

Diego Rivera

Two key professors? Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, both serious, daring artists in their own rights as well the inspirers of generations of art students.

At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, larger than life Diego Rivera husband of the equally famous Frida Kahlo (Cancer) was making art that would inspire generations of Mexican artists. He was a famous bon viveur, of course, fat, greedy, womanising, full of life – the embodiment of Jupiter himself. Hell to be married to, of course.  But in this portrait he looks like a professor.

Another artists’ union, between Picasso (Scorpio) and Francoise Gilot (Sagittarius), caused something of a sensation mid-century. He was old enough to be her grandpa. The relationship overshadowed the strength of Gilot’s work. This self-portrait seems to be all about freedom – another preoccupation of the centaur.


Francoise Gilot (Nov 26)


And there is great joy to Sagittarius too. My favourite Sagittarius portraitist, without equal, is the White Russian painter Zinaida Serebriakova. Her self-portraits — and there are many — are stunning. They show Sagittarius in her exuberance, self-mockery; in her confidence and mastery. There is so much humour and joie de vivre in her work.

At the dressing table (1909)

At the dressing table (1909)

Self-portrait in a Scarf (1911)



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  1. KL says:

    Woaah. There’s a naked man and then there’s a naked man. He seems to find himself simultaneously godlike and absurd, loathsome and fascinating. How very human. But I don’t think he can have like himself much. Do you have his chart?

  2. Christina says:

    By all accounts he was a pretty unpleasant man. His brother did not speak to him for something like 60 years. I will fish around for his chart.

  3. Opal says:

    I’ve always been fascinated how someone so technically brilliant made the human figure look so ugly. I’d like to like his paintings because I have so much admiration for his talent but I just can’t. And I have Venus in Sag.

    The word ‘blunt’ is often used to describe Sag, and I think you can see something of it here – tell it like it is with no frills or furbelows.

    Kandinsky, mind you….’Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ – I never knew he was a Sag – how fitting!

  4. Morvah says:

    How very honest they all are though..No glossing over the truth here! There is a beauty to be found in all of these isn’t there? Freud just totally looks like a centaur. Thanks for these posts about artist’s self portraits, how revealing they are!

  5. Christina says:

    @Opal – I find it hard not think about how Freud is the grandson of Freud. And you could argue – and I think I’m just about to – that there are parallels. Sigmund was a great storyteller, fascinated by people – but he couldn’t really see them, all his stories are really about Sigmund. Lucien: great painter, fascinated by people, yet all his portraits – except maybe the Leigh Bowery ones – are self-portraits.

    Kandinsky I love, but this self-portrait is so stiff. He was so much more comfortable when he went totally abstract.

    @Morvah – I think they are some the most powerful self-portraits as a group.

  6. Dido says:

    I think he liked himself very much. It’s not too bad to feel half beast either, I’m always at it.. xx D

  7. Jamma says:

    Christina — Such a treat to drop in each day and see what surprise you have in store for us. Today’s post not only gave me a new take on Sag friends but — wow! — woke up my visual taste buds. Thank you!
    Re L Freud: His self-portraits seem utterly defiant — daring the viewer to disdain him. There may be self-loathing, but I also see a lot of ego and self-congratulation under that ugliness he took such grim pleasure in showing the world (a big “in your face and eff you if you don’t like it!”). Not surprising for the half-man half-beast to have these conflicting feelings roiling inside himself.
    And I can’t help thinking Lucien was slipping in a sly nod to his Sagittarius Sun — those shoes look exactly like hooves!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Freud’s work always reminds me a bit of Egon Schiele’s. The way they both portray flesh as sort of livid and disgusting.

  9. Locus Beatus says:

    I knew Freud very well in the 70s – we were lovers and stayed friends. ‘Loathing of humanity’? ‘Loathed himself? You have him totally, utterly wrong.

    He was not lonely in the least – he had a very wide circle of friends of all classes and types, who were very loyal to him throught a long life. Some of his closest friendships (with both men and women) were of 50 or 60 years’ duration, notably that with Frank Auerbach to whom he was very close. He would seek out younger artists who interested him. He was extremely convivial and loved to go to clubs, and to eat in company, almost right to the end.

    He did prefer to talk to people one to one, or in very small numbers: two, three or four round a dinner table maybe. He didn’t feel you could have a meaningful conversation with more people than that, and he had no time at all for wasting time, or mindless chatter.

    He became very close to all his family (his children) as the years passed, and in later years preferred their company to that of most others. His family heritage was important to him, but it was he who refused to speak to his brother Clement for 60 years, not the other way round. Clement was the very unpleasant man, and Lucian could not be bothered with his shallowness and posing. (It would not have surprised Lucian in the least to learn that Clement would refuse veterinary treatment for his injured rachorses, though it would have made him very angry – he had a passion for horses and from his 60s onwards would ride often in Hyde Park of an early morning with the Household Cavalry).

    Lucian’s portraits are only ugly if you think people in their reality are ugly. He did not. He saw the beauty in every little thing. Conventional smoothed out media-friendly beauty didn’t interest him in the slightest. The vulnerability of people did, just as animals did and our relationships with them. All his work is a self-portrait? I’m mystified.

    All the portraits were painted in his studio (in later life (55 and later) he had two, one in his house in Kensington and the other at his top floor flat in Holland Park. His portraits always took many months and sometimes years to complete, and he would work on several simultaneously, so he was almost never alone: he would have a sitter with him most of the time, or his assistant, or he would be out meeting a friend to eat or at a club. He would usually take his sitters out to eat, or cook for them – he loved very fresh natural food, oysters or game for example, and loved to eat with his hands.

    I spent some time discussing and rectifying his chart three years ago (with the help of someone who posted above, in fact). We eventually figured that a Cancer Asc fitted him best with Pluto somewhere close to it. His presence and habits of mind and behaviour were very Plutonic, as was his piercing gaze.

    I saved the chart and it has Asc at 13˚19 Cancer. Birth details: 8th Dec 1922, Berlin

    • Christina says:

      Oh Locus, Thanks for this insight. I forgot to put up the chart I have for him in the Rivera-Freud post. I have fixed it now, so it’s there for you to comment on further. Your birth time gives him Pluto Rising & Cancer would fit the studio as cave.

  10. […] I’ll leave you to contemplate the charts and see what you think. If you want to see some more Sagittarian self portraits – which in the case of these two are so revealing – click here. […]