The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is taking a fresh, traditional look at the “selfie,” exhibiting approximately 90 drawings, prints, and photographs spanning a period from the 17th century to the 20th century.
It has become such a commonplace word: the “selfie,” a slang term coined to describe images, taken on cellphones and cameras, that show the faces and extended arms (or sticks) of individuals. In many cases, the dreaded selfie has usurped — if not replaced entirely — self-portraiture as quickly as the push of a button.

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Self-Portrait with Saskia,” ca. 1636, (c) Rijksmuseum 2015

Like a breath of fresh air, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, is bringing new meaning to the term by exploring the “selfie” on paper. At its core, the exhibition focuses on self-portraits, from the Dutch master himself, Rembrandt van Rijn, through the 20th century with works from Carel Willink. Other artists include Oskar Kokoschka, Moses ter Borch, Leendert van der Cooghen, and Jan Toorop.
The museum reports, “There is one model who is always available, never complains of aching feet, doesn’t harp on about more pay and is prepared to adopt every conceivable pose and facial expression — the artist themselves.” Indeed, no matter what culture or time in history, artists have always been fascinated with producing self-images. One could even suggest that the stenciled hands painted on the walls of Paleolithic caves some 40,000 years ago were proclamations of humanity or “the self.” As such, any exhibition detailing self-portraiture will invariably have a number of outstanding works from which to curate, and the Rijksmuseum was no different.

Carel Willink, “Self-Portrait,” 1938, (c) Rijksmuseum 2015

However, rather than simply focusing on self-portraiture proper, the museum has added another element to the equation, highlighting specifically works executed on paper. The prints, drawings, and etchings in the show are more intimate, perhaps experimental. Regardless, visitors will undoubtedly leave with the feeling that they’ve just met the makers.
“Selfies on Paper: Self-portraits from Rembrandt to Willink” opened on November 5.
To learn more, visit the Rijksmuseum.
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