Andrew Forge

  • Title: Self Portrait
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Width: 51cm 20 1/8in
  • Height: 76cm 29 7/8in
  • Year of creation: 1956
  • Notes: Signed ‘Forge’, dated ’56’
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Andrew Forge’s self-portrait is in the honourable, classical tradition of a mirror self-image. The stark framing of the mirror (possibly gilded, or simply plain but refulgent wood) makes us doubly aware that the distanced, mirrored self-portrayal takes on the form of a picture within a picture.

There are six letters (dated 1964), from Andrew Forge to Ruth Borchard. He wrote:

‘I would be delighted to let you have an old self-portrait for £20… I have had two periods when I painted a lot of self-portraits – one in about 1953-54 & the other about 56-57. They are all quite small, 30” x 25” at the most. The early ones are more “like” than the later.’

Forge twice apologises for delays in contacting Ruth, saying he has been ‘terribly busy’. Indeed, as a painter, art critic (he wrote books on artists including Vermeer, Manet and Klee) and senior lecturer at the Slade School of Art (from 1950-64), and then head of the Department of Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College (from 1964-70), his time was precious.

His self-portrait is in the honourable, classical tradition of a mirror self-image. The stark framing of the mirror (possibly gilded, or simply plain but refulgent wood) makes us doubly aware that the distanced, mirrored self-portrayal takes on the form of a picture within a picture. Dated 1965, it was painted when the artist was thirty-three, and already a senior lecturer at the Slade. Forge looks quite relaxed and informal, attractive and upstanding in his open-necked shirt, possibly denim. Yet his rather bleary-eyed, puckered-lipped expression is, characteristically, one of guarded enquiry, a tentative weighing-up.

Odd, rudimentary vertical and horizontal lines here and there show how carefully Forge has initially measured up the composition in the manner used by William Coldstream – who taught Forge at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (1947-9).

In the early 1960s, Forge came under David Bomberg’s influence and followers such as Frank Auerbach and Dorothy Mead – the latter with whom he had a long relationship – and produced some vibrantly impastoed portraits. Then one day in 1963 in his New York studio, he ‘picked up the smallest brush… and I just went… very intensely on the canvas [painting a dot]… It was a fantastic moment…that point looked back at me like an eye…’ He started the first of many paintings composed of dot and dash lattices, works which have been called ‘replete with… ambiguities and perceptual instabilities’.

Forge was a Professor of Fine Art at Yale from 1975-83; he had a painting retrospective at the Yale Center of British Art in 1996.