Self-Portrait (unfinished)

Harriet Backer
Harriet Backer, "Selfportrait", about 1910
Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Børre Høstland


This is the only self-portrait we know of by Harriet Backer. Here we see an elderly painter studying herself in the mirror. She looks self-critical. The mouth is tight and determined. She is serious. The dark, staring gaze stands out. 

The portrait was one of the genres Backer specialized in during his studies in Munich. And while she was still a student there, she even wrote home to her mother:  

Actor portraying Harriet Backer:
I want to paint portraits most of all, and everyone agrees that it is the most difficult thing in the world, when you can do it, you can also paint pictures; but conversely, not everyone who paints beautiful pictures can paint a good portrait. 

Here, with fresh brushstrokes, she has set up the complementary colours of red and green against each other. These were also the colors that surrounded her in the studio - with the red sofa and green walls.  

The self-portrait is unfinished - and was not exhibited until after the artist's death. And the fingerprints that are visible in yellow in the upper part of the canvas, are probably that of the artist.