Watercolor and graphite on paperboard mounted on illustration board
Image: 37.3 x 28.3 cm (14 11/16 x 11 1/8")
Mat: 71.1 × 55.9 cm (28 × 22")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
"The human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare," artist Ralph Barton wrote in 1926. In his haunting self-portrait, Barton reveals what he usually took pains to conceal: the turmoil of the psyche. Inscribed "with apologies to Greco and God," the picture suggests the artist's own mental anguish and the dark portraits of El Greco. Despite his personal charm and an unrivaled reputation for stylized images of the famous, Barton could not escape his manic depression and committed suicide before his fortieth birthday. But he had helped to invent a new type of stylish, lighthearted celebrity caricature. "It is not the caricaturist's job to be penetrating," he noted. "It is his job to put down the figure a man cuts before his fellows in his attempt to conceal the writhings of his soul."