Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681374826
Pages: 216
Publication Date: November 10, 2020


by Celia Paul


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One of Britain's most important contemporary painters, Celia Paul has written a reflective, intimate memoir of her life as an artist. Self-Portrait tells the artist's story in her own words, drawn from early journal entries as well as memory, of her childhood in India and her days as a art student at London's Slade School of Fine Art; of her intense decades-long relationship with the older esteemed painter Lucian Freud and the birth of their son; of the challenges of motherhood, the unresolvable conflict between caring for a child and remaining committed to art; of the "invisible skeins between people," the profound familial connections Paul communicates through her paintings of her mother and sisters; and finally, of the mystical presence in her own solitary vision of the world around her. With over seventy illustrations, Self-Portrait is a powerful, liberating evocation of a life and of a life-long dedication to art.


Self-Portrait demonstrates a painter's startling command of language and her moral power of seeing the world concretely and without subjectivity. Celia Paul's account of the young woman artist's struggle towards expression is a story that exposes some of the deepest wounds in our cultural psyche: the ambiguous power of the male artist, the vulnerability and isolation of the woman driven to create, the question of who owns her, of her very body and what it's for. Written with beauty and candour but without anger, Self-Portrait will yet arouse indignation in its readers, for its delicate exposure of what occurs in the pursuit and misuse of artistic status.
—Rachel Cusk

Self-Portrait will go some way to clearing that mist [of misogyny] from the world of portraiture, and might also act as gentle intervention, intended for the kind of young girl tempted to swap self-realization for external validation.
—Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books

An insight into the white-knuckle determination needed to make great art, and why it is so few women painters reach the heights. An astoundingly honest book, moving and engrossing—full of truths.
—Esther Freud

I loved the painter Celia Paul’s memoir Self-Portrait. It’s fascinating for its account of her long-term lover Lucian Freud . . . but it’s also painfully honest on what it means to be a woman who puts art first, no matter what.
—Olivia Laing, New Statesman

The publication of this, her first book, is of great significance. . . . Having recently returned to writing again, she has found a new confidence, in words, in herself and in her painting.
—Frances Spalding, The Guardian

Self-Portrait made me think of two recent, elliptical autobiographical projects that refuse to conform to traditional notions of intimate disclosure: Rachel Cusk’s autofiction trilogy . . . and Joanna Hogg’s film The Souvenir. . . . Like Cusk and Hogg, Paul plays with the balance between confession and dispassion. In their different ways, all three are challenging our ideas about how autobiography works. There’s something tremendously refreshing about Paul’s lack of sensationalism. . . . Self-Portrait is both the obvious extension of Paul’s oeuvre, and a powerful, urgent and essential depiction of what it is to be a woman artist.
—Lucy Scholes, The Daily Telegraph

A poetic, sometimes painfully honest memoir.
—Tim Adams, The Observer

A story of obsession and manipulation that sends our feelings on a rollercoaster. . . . [Self-Portrait] turns into a sort of myth about the misuse of fame and the male ego, about the struggles faced by creative women, about the body in all its guises. Like a myth, it unfolds with confusions and contradictions, a terrible inevitability and many, many discomfiting truths.
—Jan Dalley, Financial Times

Paul is one of the most thoughtful and significant living women artists and Self-Portrait helps suggest why. . . . Her painting and writing are of a piece — closely observed, not seeking to flatter, and with people always as her focus.
—Michael Prodger, The Sunday Times's 'Books of the Year'