One of the most essential tools of artistic communication is the paintbrush. With the brush the artist transfers an idea or vision to the pictorial plane. It is the executor of a descriptive act. An extension of the painter’s arm that facilitates mixing the colours and enables the development of a distinct brushwork. A tool of expression that expresses the inexpressible.
Technically speaking a paintbrush consist of 3 parts. The handle, which is the interface between the user and the tool, the ferrule, which retains the bristles and attaches them to the handle and the bristles that transfer the paint to the surface, mostly made of animal hair.
It is not known exactly when the paintbrush was invented. All we know is that from the Upper Palaeolithic period onwards our ancestors used their hands, bones, sticks and wood shavings to create cave paintings that were thought to improve or predict the outcome of the hunt. In Ancient Egypt they used split palm leaves to paint their elaborate pantheon of deities. It is an accepted fact that the artists in Ancient Greece and Rome made use of brushes, mostly made of squirrel hair, hog bristle or cat whiskers, to paint naturalistic representations of anatomy, garments and emotions. While in Ancient China the artists used long-haired brushes to write their elaborate characters.
In the fifteenth century AD quills with soft hairs or bristles became the preferred style brushes. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century when the introduction of metal ferrules led to a greater variety of brush shapes. Round brushes (detail), bright (thicker painting), filbert (detail + coverage), fan (spreading), angle (versatile), mop (thin glazes) and rigger brushes (fine lines) enabled artists to achieve certain effects through the specific choice of brush, like the tache, the broad, flat, even stroke of the Impressionists.
No other genre depicted so many paintbrushes as the self-portrait. When in Early Renaissance wealth increased and mirrors became better and wider available the Self as main subject became a beloved genre. Portraying and elevating the role of the artist in society. Showing the artist at work contributed to ennobling art as a wellregarded profession with a larger audience. Propagating the archetypical physiognomy of the visual artist in the studio and emphasizing the perfection of skills.
Painters like Sofonisba Anguissola’s “Self-portrait at the Easel Painting” (1556) to Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Selfportrait as Allegory of Painting” (1638-39) to Diego Velasquez “Las Meninas” (1656), Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Selfportrait with two circles” (1665), Angelika Kauffmann’s “Self-portrait” (1770-75), Edward Manet’s “Self-portrait with Palette” (1878-79), Vincent van Gogh’s “Self-portrait” (1889), Marc Chagall’s “Self-portrait with brushes” (1909) Oskar Kokoschka’s “Self-portrait with brush” (1913) to Lucian Freud’s “Painter working Reflection” (1993) all eternalised themselves with their paintbrushes and painting equipment. Revealing the appearance and personality of a creative genius who was normally hidden behind the canvas.