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Self-Portrait

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I’m not a portrait painter. If I’m anything, I have always been an autobiographer. Self-Portrait reveals a life truly lived through art. In this short, intimate memoir, Celia Paul moves effortlessly through time in words and images, folding in her past and present selves. From her move to the Slade School of Fine Art at sixteen, through a profound and intense affair wit I’m not a portrait painter. If I’m anything, I have always been an autobiographer. Self-Portrait reveals a life truly lived through art. In this short, intimate memoir, Celia Paul moves effortlessly through time in words and images, folding in her past and present selves. From her move to the Slade School of Fine Art at sixteen, through a profound and intense affair with the older and better-known artist Lucian Freud, to the practices of her present-day studio, she meticulously assembles the surprising, beautiful, haunting scenes of a life. Paul brings to her prose the same qualities that she brings to her art: a brutal honesty, a delicate but powerful intensity, and an acute eye for visual detail. At its heart, this is a book about a young woman becoming an artist, with all the sacrifices and complications that entails. As she moves out of Freud’s shadow, and navigates a path to artistic freedom, Paul’s power and identity as an artist emerge from the page. Self-Portrait is a uniquely arresting, poignant book, and a work of art and literature by a singular talent. 'Fascinating… Painfully honest on what it means to be a woman who puts art first, no matter what.’ Olivia Laing, New Statesman **Shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2019**


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I’m not a portrait painter. If I’m anything, I have always been an autobiographer. Self-Portrait reveals a life truly lived through art. In this short, intimate memoir, Celia Paul moves effortlessly through time in words and images, folding in her past and present selves. From her move to the Slade School of Fine Art at sixteen, through a profound and intense affair wit I’m not a portrait painter. If I’m anything, I have always been an autobiographer. Self-Portrait reveals a life truly lived through art. In this short, intimate memoir, Celia Paul moves effortlessly through time in words and images, folding in her past and present selves. From her move to the Slade School of Fine Art at sixteen, through a profound and intense affair with the older and better-known artist Lucian Freud, to the practices of her present-day studio, she meticulously assembles the surprising, beautiful, haunting scenes of a life. Paul brings to her prose the same qualities that she brings to her art: a brutal honesty, a delicate but powerful intensity, and an acute eye for visual detail. At its heart, this is a book about a young woman becoming an artist, with all the sacrifices and complications that entails. As she moves out of Freud’s shadow, and navigates a path to artistic freedom, Paul’s power and identity as an artist emerge from the page. Self-Portrait is a uniquely arresting, poignant book, and a work of art and literature by a singular talent. 'Fascinating… Painfully honest on what it means to be a woman who puts art first, no matter what.’ Olivia Laing, New Statesman **Shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2019**

30 review for Self-Portrait

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jamila Herman-Prowse

    Such a beautiful book. Paul writes in such an insightful and thoughtful way, providing just the right amount of detail in each passage without rambling on. We’re provided with a unique perspective into the passing of time and Paul’s personal growth and development as a painter. I loved how Paul seems to be actively thinking about her position throughout, and gradually appears to reject traditionally performing the roles assigned to her - particularly those of model (or muse, although notably Pau Such a beautiful book. Paul writes in such an insightful and thoughtful way, providing just the right amount of detail in each passage without rambling on. We’re provided with a unique perspective into the passing of time and Paul’s personal growth and development as a painter. I loved how Paul seems to be actively thinking about her position throughout, and gradually appears to reject traditionally performing the roles assigned to her - particularly those of model (or muse, although notably Paul refrains from ever using this word) and mother. My favourite moments were of Paul describing her painting process, I felt incredibly calm reading them.

  2. 5 out of 5

    reading is my hustle

    i started this artist memoir after reading about celia paul in a nyt article written by Rachel Cusk. self-portrait is a beautiful & complicated account of her life as a painter (& the perfect follow-up to Life with Picasso). celia paul (like françois gilot) was a young painter when she met the middle-aged painter Lucian Freud. the parallels between the two women do not end there. both celia & françois spent ten years of their lives with horrible men. freud (much like picasso) was a womanizer, se i started this artist memoir after reading about celia paul in a nyt article written by Rachel Cusk. self-portrait is a beautiful & complicated account of her life as a painter (& the perfect follow-up to Life with Picasso). celia paul (like françois gilot) was a young painter when she met the middle-aged painter Lucian Freud. the parallels between the two women do not end there. both celia & françois spent ten years of their lives with horrible men. freud (much like picasso) was a womanizer, selfish, exploitive, vain, & greedy. both men took inspiration from their partners & undermined their art. celia had one child with freud who BTW had numerous children (14 acknowledged sons and daughters but possibly 30 others). though freud was interested in celia's pregnancy he wasn't so interested in being a father. the dueling responsibilities of motherhood, her relationship with freud, & dedication to her art gave her the strength to eventually leave the bastard freud. reading this memoir i couldn't help but be dazzled by her early life in india, her relationship with her mother, her notebook entries, & her continued life in art.

  3. 5 out of 5

    kim

    this is an odd and very special book. lots of things are touched upon and barely talked about and yet celia paul gives these things a presence in her book. i admire that. celia paul is an artist but is usually talked about as lucian freuds muse — i like her work better than his stuff, something about the light in her paintings, and the colours she uses in her work is just astonishing. yes, very special.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sohum

    very lovely, a chronicle of tumult and abuse and the adults that made it possible, but also, offering a sense of Paul's own formation as a (very gifted) painter. very lovely, a chronicle of tumult and abuse and the adults that made it possible, but also, offering a sense of Paul's own formation as a (very gifted) painter.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rogue Male

    8/10

  6. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Klein

    I became interested in Paul and her work after reading Rachel Cusk's article in the New York Times recently. Paul was in a relationship with Lucian Freud which lasted 10 years. They met when she was 18 and he was much older. They had a son but never married. In light of today's Me Too Movement, her story is troubling. She seemed to be an introverted, highly ambitious young artist whose interests focused on painting and little self. I have little sense of her as a fully formed person after readin I became interested in Paul and her work after reading Rachel Cusk's article in the New York Times recently. Paul was in a relationship with Lucian Freud which lasted 10 years. They met when she was 18 and he was much older. They had a son but never married. In light of today's Me Too Movement, her story is troubling. She seemed to be an introverted, highly ambitious young artist whose interests focused on painting and little self. I have little sense of her as a fully formed person after reading her memoir. While the illustrations of her work look terrific, I have never seen her paintings in the flesh. In one excruciating passage, she describes listening for her mother, who is serving as her model, laboriously climb the 80 steps to Celia's studio. Dispassionately watching the poor woman as her labored breathing quiets down. Along with other bags, her mother has also brought breakfast which had to be lugged up those 80 steps. Then she settled into a modelling session lasting several hours. Paul is without consideration for her mother, who not only takes care of Paul's son full time, but makes this trip several times a week by train to serve as model. Paul's talents clearly lie in her artwork and not her literary leanings. Her sentences are direct, often oddly cut off from the emotions she's describing. She sometimes soars but only when she's describing the act of painting. Other important life changing experiences, like her parents deaths, the birth of her son are described matter of fact, from an emotional distance. This book raises even more questions than I had before I read it. I was hoping for insight as to why a young woman would willingly love a much older man who was never faithful to her and dedicate 10 years of her life to him. I question who was exploiting whom. He promoted her career and arranged for her to meet prominent people in the art world. But would her career have taken a different path or similar one without his help?? Paul discloses little of herself. Like her family portraits in which she is absent, represented only by her brushwork and artistic considerations, Paul seems more a cypher than a real woman. She seems oddly out of time. Maybe more appropriate for an earlier century. I look forward to seeing her work and perhaps gaining some insight into Paul. But as to her writing.....think I'll pass.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nikita Malhotra

    Just like a great self portrait there are questions wrapped up in answers. I might have picked this book up mainly because of her relationship with Lucian Freud, but her account of her life moved me away from needing the potential gossip that could be attributed to a memoir; and the substitute of a view of the world from the astute pain of jealousy and death to the moments of joy and a glimpse into the artist’s interpretation of the world made this a book that stood out. She never complains abou Just like a great self portrait there are questions wrapped up in answers. I might have picked this book up mainly because of her relationship with Lucian Freud, but her account of her life moved me away from needing the potential gossip that could be attributed to a memoir; and the substitute of a view of the world from the astute pain of jealousy and death to the moments of joy and a glimpse into the artist’s interpretation of the world made this a book that stood out. She never complains about how difficult the misogynistic art world was during the last decades of the 20th century, her voice and her views of art cut through that to create a bridge for us to reconsider all things. And it seems quite special that she maintains a sense of authenticity, she explains why she painted certain details in her paintings that evoke an understanding and an engagement with the world that somehow doesn’t have the taint of pretension.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Janet Fry

    This was a book I just had to purchase for my collection. I first read about Celia Paul in the New York Times. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know of her or her artwork before last year. When I found out she was the lover of Lucian Freud, of course I had to read about her. But actually that is not the most interesting thing about her. To me, it’s her total dedication to being a painter. Paul and I are about the same age. When I had my two babies, I gave up producing art. She did not. And yet sh This was a book I just had to purchase for my collection. I first read about Celia Paul in the New York Times. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know of her or her artwork before last year. When I found out she was the lover of Lucian Freud, of course I had to read about her. But actually that is not the most interesting thing about her. To me, it’s her total dedication to being a painter. Paul and I are about the same age. When I had my two babies, I gave up producing art. She did not. And yet she is extremely close to her siblings and parents — they are her main subjects and inspiration for her portraits. But I find her extreme introversion and immersion in art to be fascinating. She’s a damn good writer, also. Loved. This. Book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robert Walkley

    I bought this book to find out what Paul thought of Lucian Freud. But I quickly became more interested in how the author views herself. The book is like a canvas upon which Paul paints and reveals herself. The book is a very handsome object. The reproductions of her paintings are outstanding—so is her work. A great find. (Paul seems like a modern day Gwen John. John, Paul, and Dickinson would make an interesting triptych to think about).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    fascinating memoir by a woman who was both a muse and a painter, at first eclipsed by her more famous lover, Lucian Freud, but gradually coming to her own, patiently painting her mother and sisters--and herself, bringing up her son by Freud. She sees her life clearly, and her steely resolve is evident beneath her gentle prose.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan Burns

    Paul has a quiet, gentle tone that disguised her sharp, insightful, lacerating themes. Her memoir is a perfect match for her incredible paintings.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    Utterly absorbing portrait of an artist who is entirely herself. Beautiful paintings throughout. Inspiring.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Edna

    I highly recommend this book...She had a child with Lucien Freud and was with him for many years. She, herself, is a quite fine artist. This is a book I hated to finish - I liked it a lot.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Seb Barker

    a quietly told story of an extraordinary life

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Evans

    A beautiful memoir. Celia writes as if writing to a friend, an openness that felt natural and inviting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zach Werbalowsky

    what a small wonder. Celia is concise and illuminating about what it means for her to be an artist and open herself up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Keith Condon

    lot of walking up stairs in this lovely, sad, reflective book. recommended for artists and people who like hoofing it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cornelius Browne

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rose Wilson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amina

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emelia Gertner

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Römer

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rumaan Alam

  25. 4 out of 5

    Genw9

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gabriella Bennett

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paige Patterson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Smith

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