Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
I am making a study of the soul, as I can observe myself closely and use myself as an anatomical testing ground for this soul study.Edvard Munch, 1908
In an essay written for a 1999 exhibition of Rembrandt's self-portraits, the scholar Ernst van de Wetering, professor of art history at the University of Amsterdam and chairman of the Rembrandt Research Project, noted that Rembrandt “had painted himself before the mirror on at least forty occasions, had etched himself thirty-one times, and had made a handful of drawn self-portraits.” On the basis of this enumeration, van de Wetering made a dramatic declaration: “This segment of his oeuvre is unique in art history, not only in its scale and the length of time it spans, but also in its regularity.”
Van de Wetering's striking claim is not even close to being accurate. The scholar Iris Müller-Westermann observed that Edvard Munch “recorded himself in more than seventy painted works and about twenty graphic self-portraits, as well as in more than one hundred watercolors, drawings, and studies; sometimes year by year, at times monthly or even daily.” Munch thus executed considerably more oil portraits of himself than Rembrandt, and Munch's total of more than 190 images of himself in all media was more than double Rembrandt's total of approximately 90. Rembrandt first painted himself at age 20, and continued to do so until near the end of his life at age 63, but this span of 43 years also falls far short of the 62 years that separated Munch's first self-portrait at age 19 from his last at age 81.