Skip to Content

To best protect the health and safety of our community, the museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

Self-Portrait of My Sister

Woman with brown dark wears a green and blue dress with long black gloves. She wears a matching blue rimmed hat.

Image actions

  • Woman with brown dark wears a green and blue dress with long black gloves. She wears a matching blue rimmed hat.




Gertrude Abercrombie
American, 1909–1977

About this artwork

At first glance, Self-Portrait of My Sister appears to be a relatively straightforward representation of a young woman. It was painted by the Chicago Surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie but seems to lack the mysterious imagery of her landscapes and interior scenes. Further examination, however, reveals subtle touches of her dark aesthetic, beginning with the title itself. Self-Portrait of My Sister is an enigmatic reference to a sister who did not exist, for the artist was in fact an only child. However, Abercrombie initially referred to this painting as “Portrait of Artist as Ideal,” a phrase that reveals her underlying meaning. Abercrombie’s work was invariably self-referential; as she put it, “It’s always myself that I paint, but not actually, because I don’t look that good or cute.” Her reference to a fictitious, prettier sister hints at her desire to be a different person, a longing she satisfied through self-portraiture.

Here, the artist exaggerated and idealized her appearance, depicting herself with an extraordinarily long, slender neck; vivid blue eyes; and sharpened features. She portrayed herself wearing black gloves and a flat-brimmed hat trimmed with a bunch of grapes, all motifs that recurred with some frequency in her paintings and acted as symbols of her presence. Such inclusions helped shape her individual variant of Surrealism, which she felt was based in realism. “Surrealism is meant for me,” she remarked, “because I am a pretty realistic person but don’t like all I see. So I dream that it is changed. Then I change it to the way I want it. It is almost always pretty real. Only mystery and fantasy have been added. All foolishness has been taken out. It becomes my own dream.”

On View

American Art, Gallery 262


Gertrude Abercrombie


Self-Portrait of My Sister


United States




Oil on canvas


68.6 × 55.9 cm (27 × 22 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Powell and Barbara Bridges

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions