The recently refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) is unveiling a self-portait by leading Scottish contemporary artist Alison Watt. Painted whilst she was ill, it shows Watt with her right hand across her forehead.
Despite the intensity of her observation, Watt treats herself objectively, giving the inanimate elements in the painting equal weight to her own depiction, in a way that anticipates much of her later work.
The female figures and nudes Watt painted in the 1990s were often oblique or veiled references to herself, and in the later paintings of fabric this is even more subtly expressed. The paintings' almost abstract quality, devoid of a human presence, belies a strong sense of the body beneath the folds and creases of cloth.
Watt's Self-portrait of 1986-7 was made while the artist was still a student and was previously in the artist's collection. The painting has been exhibited only once before, at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow in 1990.
Nicola Kalinsky, Interim Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery described the painting as an "exquisite self-portrait by one of the most interesting artists to emerge from Scotland in recent years".
Alison Watt said: 'I have always been fascinated by portraiture. Over the years I've studied extraordinary examples of it from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's collection, particularly those works by Raeburn, Ramsay and Van Dyck. These paintings transcend time and place. That's what portraiture should do. It's a great thrill to be part of a collection which contains such iconic works.’
The purchase of the painting was paid for in full for by national charity the Art Fund. Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said this was a way of "congratulating the museum on its triumphant re-opening" at the end of last year.
Alison Watt bio
Alison Watt was born in Greenock in 1965 and studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1983 to 1988.
She first came to public attention in 1987, when she won the annual portrait award organised by the National Portrait Gallery in London, and was commissioned to paint H M Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. In 2000, Watt became the youngest artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and from 2006 to 2008 was Associate Artist at the National Gallery in London. She was awarded an OBE in 2008.
Although she has rarely engaged with formal portraiture since her early career, Alison Watt has said that there is an element of self-portraiture in all of her work - from the very beginning, when she would stand in front of a mirror and paint herself obsessively, to the more subtle representations of self implied in the complex and enigmatic paintings of folded drapery for which she is best known today.