A worthy representative of the art movement Romanticism, Orest Kiprensky (1782 – 1836) was a Russian portraitist, most famous for his 1827 painting of Alexander Pushkin. As a testament to Kiprensky’s skill, upon its completion, Pushkin, the great Russian poet, is alleged to have said “the mirror flatters me”.
Kiprensky completed several self-portraits during his lifetime, among them Self-portrait with Brushes Behind the Ear (1808). It’s a rather unusual portrait with so many details left in darkness and veiled in mystery, the artist blending in with the background. Half of his face is lit by a fireplace or a lamp and the two brushes behind his ear reveal his raison d’eître, painting.
Kiprensky was 26 years old when he painted this, having graduated from the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg in 1803. As he developed his style and gained more recognition, his self-portraits became clearer, bolder. Which is why Self-portrait with Brushes Behind the Ear reflects such an endearing moment in time when Kiprensky, unsure of himself and of his talents, chose an honest portrayal, as if intuiting a work in progress: himself, his art, his life.