Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Here's Looking at Me: How Artists See Themselves

Here's Looking at Me: How Artists See Themselves

Bob Raczka
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2006   ISBN: 978-0761334040

Many artists have, at some point in their career, painted a portrait of themselves. Sometimes they do so because they need to practice drawing figures and don’t have a model, and sometimes they take on the challenge because it gives them an opportunity to reflect on who they are.

   For this book Bob Raczka has found the self-portraits of fourteen artists which he shares with us. Each of the portraits is accompanied by a biography of the featured artist. What makes these biographies particularly interesting is that the author includes details about the self-portrait we are looking at, and he also helps us to understand what the portrait tells us about the painter.

   For example, one of the portraits presented in the book was painted by Henri Rousseau, who was a self-taught artist. He apparently had a very high opinion of his own painting skills, even though his peers where Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, and other famous artists. Rousseau’s confidence in himself is evident in his self-portrait because of the way it is composed. In the painting, Rousseau painted himself holding his pallet and paintbrush in the foreground of a landscape. “This makes everything in the Paris landscape behind him seem small and unimportant.” Clearly Rousseau felt as if he was a person of consequence. At the same time he understood that he was able to become a great painter because he was supported by his two wives, and he honored them in his portrait by putting both of their names on the pallet he is holding.

   The next painter featured in the book was nothing like Rousseau. Vincent van Gogh was a prolific painter who sold only one painting in his lifetime and spent much of his life wracked by doubts. He was also afflicted with a mental illness and during a crisis he cut off his own ear. The portrait show in this book shows the painter with a bandage covering his ear and part of his face. He had the courage to capture his own image at a time when his life was getting more and more out of control. Perhaps this says that Vincent had more courage than he saw in himself.

   What makes this book special is that it not only shares the lives of fourteen wonderful artists, but it also helps children to see how a painting can tell a story. Sometimes, in the case of portraits, a painting can capture the personality of the person whose likeness appears on the canvas or paper.