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Joseph Stella 18771946
America's leading futurist artist, Joseph Stella created monumental abstract paintings characterized by dramatic contrasts of light and color, thrusting diagonals, and dynamic movement. This self-portrait drawing reflects instead on the conflicts and contradictions of Stella's artistic and personal development.

Not known as an introspective person, the Italian-born artist studied his own image more intensely as he grew older and more reclusive. While his earlier self-portraits suggest an artist using himself as a model, the later images reveal his state of mind and declining physical state. Color and form add intensity to the pose, a far cry from the classical Renaissance profiles he admired. Touches of red on the lips, eyelid, nose, and cheek are unsettling. The turbulent pattern and acrid yellow highlights in the background reinforce the sense of anxiety, suggesting a malevolent alter ego that hovers nearby. Yet the concentration of his gaze, the flare of his nostril, and the set of his lips convey the spirit of a headstrong individual who persists despite emotional turmoil.

Gouache, graphite, metalpoint, watercolor, and crayon on prepared paper, circa 1940
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
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