Published on

Secret selfies through the ages

In the shadow of Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier is omnipresent in her work. In a mirror, a reflection in a window or a shadow on the New York tarmac. But which artists preceded this street photographer from New York with their artistic selfies? A handful of the most covert self-portraits – from subtle to less under cover.

Jan van Eyck

The painting is now world famous and he also makes no secret of it in his signature. “Jan van Eyck was here.” In the convex mirror of the Arnolfini portrait we see an appearance of the artist himself.

Clara Peeters

In the 17th century, the still life was considered the lowest form of painting and was 'if really necessary' even suitable for women. Clara Peeters made some of the most beautiful ones in the Low Countries. In one of her still life paintings, she managed to outdo the genre in a masterly fashion by portraying herself in the reflection of an earthenware jug.

Lucian Freud, Flora with Blue Toenails (2000-2001)
Lucian Freud, Flora with Blue Toenails (2000-2001)

Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud is famous for leaving his models to pose for interminably long hours. In his work, he often takes the relationship between artist and model to the extreme. In the painting Flora with Blue Toenails, his shadow enters like an ominous dark cloud.

Lee Friedlander, Shadow—New York City (1966)

Lee Friedlander

In photos by fellow photographer Lee Friedlander, you can find plenty of self-portraits of the artist, in a shadow or reflection. Like Maier, he extends the boundaries of self-portraits and street photography alike.

Erwin Olaf

In a royal portrait, you would expect absolutely nobody else to have the honour of joining the king. Erwin Olaf did it anyway. A noble yet modest photo bomb, inappropriate or ingenious?


Vivian Maier's self-portraits can still be admired at Bozar until 28 August.