National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; the Ruth Bowman and Harry Kahn Twentieth-Century American Self-Portrait Collection
Joseph Stella 1877-1946
In adhering to the demands of the tradition-laden technique of metalpoint in the early twentieth century, as exemplified in this mature self-portrait, Joseph Stella compared himself to a tree, digging its "roots obstinately, stubbornly" into the medium, imagery developed here. The strong presence of a tree trunk, with a protruding branch that frames the artist's head, testifies to Stella's interest in the natural world. His self-portraiture demonstrates the confidence of an artist able to merge the modern with the traditional; the mystical with the observed; and the symbolic power of medium, technique, and image. Describing his commitment to capturing inspiration in his images, Stella reflected: "The greatest effort of the artist is to catch and render permanent (materialize) that blissful moment (inspiration) of his when he sees things out of normal proportion, elevated and spiritualized, appearing new, as seen for the first time."