Historically, the possibility of commissioning an artist to draw, paint, or sculpt a portrait has been a privilege of wealthier classes. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, the genre of portraiture underwent an enormous transformation. Artists began to focus on the everyday, depicting sitters belonging to their intimate circles, including friends or relatives. For example, Paul Cézanne’s Madame Cézanne (ca. 1885–87) is one of many portraits the French artist painted of his wife, Hortense Fiquet.

Today, over one hundred years later, we still pose constantly for other people or for ourselves. Photography was invented around 1826, and the first mobile phones with inbuilt cameras came on the market in 2000. These devices, and subsequent iterations like the tablet, revolutionized the medium and allow us to photograph ourselves with ease. While some champion the selfie as a contemporary icon of self-expression, others regard it as a reflection of an increasingly superficial society. What is your opinion about this?

Paul Cézanne
Madame Cézanne, ca. 1885–87
Oil on canvas with traces of graphite
55.5 x 46 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser 78.2514.5
Photo: © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York (SRGF)

Foto 2

Group of friends making selfie
© E+/Getty Images