Description & Technical information

Horst Janssen obsessively drew self-portraits throughout his career, often showing his distorted full face from unusual angles and often in extreme close-up. As has recently been noted by one scholar, ‘Like Rembrandt, whom Janssen portrayed in watercolour and etching multiple times and whose self-portraits he intertwined in his own…, Janssen obviously examines himself in the mirror. He comes so close to it that the magnification is accompanied by a hyperreal exaggeration and distortion. The surface structure of the skin, its wrinkles and blemishes are precisely defined, nearly ugly, relentlessly real and, at the same time, completely unreal…Whereas viewers of a Janssen self-portrait are at first inclined to return the gaze of the artist, they soon notice that the images are not at all intended in this way. The close-up perspective seems perversely intimate – you are that close only to yourself.’  

As Janssen himself wrote, in the introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of his work in 1970, ‘Well – I was born, I played, I was filled with wisdom and now I sit here and draw; drawings for the market, drawings for presents, self portrait-drawings and drawings of every kind…I achieve the greatest effect however in the drawings of the third category – the self portraits. Partly because this discipline is hardly cultivated at all these days, partly because a comedian-like gift puts me in the position of being able to make my face appear quite convincingly, according to requirements, sometimes gay and young, sometimes melancholic, sometimes wild, and at other times bloated to the point of being destroyed, yet directly stimulating. My drawing ability in portraying the actual mirror image in a very exact manner, but with the very unusual yet important understatement, thus created the impression of that honesty so much desired by the public.’

Several years later, the artist elaborated on this aspect of his oeuvre: ‘…I am no portraitist. But people will surely ask: “and the self-portraits? The self-portraits??” Indeed, I have repeatedly claimed that these reflections are [more like] still lives! Still lives when I am tired of another nature morte. Or I am playing the thing to such a degree that it becomes the purest grimace of an acting performance…When I hit on my own face as a “subject” it is very seldom just individual, momentary physiognomic conditions – no, when it happens, then delight in my own grotesque face keeps me going for days, nights and weeks…If I were to spend hours preoccupying myself – with the intensity to which I am accustomed – with someone else’s face – I would be sure to feel a sense of shock, be it shock at the “alien” or about the beauty.’

The text at the bottom of this drawing may be approximately translated as ‘4.00. You darling, it is still dark, soon it will be light, I will try to wake you up later…’

Extensively inscribed 4.00 du liebling es ist noch dünkel, bald / ist es hell, ich werd versuchen, dich / nachher aufzuwecken [?] / sowie [?] / KLA2.7A at the lower right.
Laid down.

Medium: Pen and brown ink and grey wash
Dimensions: 20.4 x 15.4 cm (8 x 6¹/₈ inches)
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints