Self-Portrait II

Horace Pippin American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 999

After World War I, Pippin, who had no formal art training, wrote and illustrated memoirs of his combat experience in which his right arm had been permanently disabled. By the 1930s he was burning designs into wood panels and making paintings that found a ready audience in an art world then keen on self-taught painters. By his death in 1946, he had mounted solo shows in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, won prizes in important contemporary art annuals, garnered attention in the national and international press, and sold most of his 130 or so paintings, wood panels, and drawings to museums and influential collectors across the country. This tiny self-portrait is part of a group of eight of his works donated by Jane Kendall Gingrich, one of the socially prominent women on Philadelphia’s Main Line with whom the artist cultivated patronage relationships.

For artist Kerry James Marshall (American, b. 1955), writing in a foreword for a 2015 Pippin retrospective, this diminutive self-portrait "is a monumental statement of self-confidence." He continues, "Any artist would be happy to reach the level of maturity embodied in this small picture." Marshall also writes that Pippin’s work has often been caught in a trap because the work is seen only through the lens of being self-taught or "primitive," a characterization that scholar Cornel West has described as a double bind for the Black artist: one is either excluded from the canon because one is Black (read: inferior) or included because one is Black (read: primitive). For Marshall, following West, neither option leaves room for the artist to be "fully engaged with the theories and practices of modern art making."

Self-Portrait II, Horace Pippin (American, West Chester, Pennsylvania 1888–1946 West Chester, Pennsylvania), Oil on canvas, adhered to cardboard

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