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Self-Portrait of My Sister

A work made of oil on canvas.

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.




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.”


Currently Off View


Arts of the Americas


Gertrude Abercrombie


Self-Portrait of My Sister


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



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

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