In one of the most astonishing projects of self-examination ever undertaken by an artist, for over a decade Richardson repeatedly drew his own face. His self-portrait drawings are usually dated precisely, and they document, from month to month, his changing state of mind as much as his appearance. Many were drawn in chalks on large sheets of blue paper, from his reflection in the mirror. Some of these are bold and psychologically penetrating, while others, in which he regards his aging features with gentle but unflinching scrutiny, are deeply touching. A further group of self-portraits is drawn with graphite on small sheets of fine vellum, and in these Richardson often presents himself in inventive and humorous ways, such as in profile, all'antica, as though on the face of a coin or medal; or crowned with bays, like a celebrated poet. Sometimes, too, he copies his image from oil paintings made decades earlier, in order to recall his appearance as a younger man. In this extraordinary series of self-portraits, Richardson offers a candid insight into his mind and personality. Together, these drawings create nothing less than a unique and compelling visual autobiography.
This publication - which accompanies the first ever exhibition devoted to Richardson's self-portrait drawings, held in the new Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery at the Courtauld - tells the story of these remarkable works and puts them into the context of his other activities at this period of his life - in particular the self-searching poems he wrote during the same years and often on the same days as he made the drawings. An introductory essay is followed by focused discussions of each work in the exhibition. This part of the book explores the materials and techniques Richardson used, whether working in chalks on a large scale or creating exquisitely refined drawings on vellum. It will also reveal how Richardson modeled some of his portraits on old master prints and drawings, including works in his own collection by Rembrandt and Bernini. The publication brings together the Courtauld Gallery's fine collection of Richardson's drawings with key works in the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Fitzwilliam Museum.