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  • Published: 7 November 2019
  • ISBN: 9781473569812
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224


A unique work of art and literature: a profound, intimate and deeply personal memoir told through words and images, by one of the most important British painters working today.

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**

  • Published: 7 November 2019
  • ISBN: 9781473569812
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 224

About the author

Celia Paul

Celia Paul is recognised as one of the most important painters working in Britain today. She was born in India in 1959, before moving to England as a young child. Her major solo exhibitions include Celia Paul, curated by Hilton Als, at Yale Center for British Art (2018) and The Huntington (2019); Desdemona for Celia by Hilton, Gallery Met, New York (2015–16); and Gwen John and Celia Paul, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (2012–13). Her work was included in the group exhibition All Too Human at Tate Britain (2018), and is in many collections, including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Saatchi Collection and Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Also by Celia Paul

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Praise for Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait demonstrates a painter's startling command of language and her moral power of seeing the world concretely and without subjectivity. Celia Paul's account of the young woman artist's struggle towards expression is a story that exposes some of the deepest wounds in our cultural psyche: the ambiguous power of the male artist, the vulnerability and isolation of the woman driven to create, the question of who owns her, of her very body and what it's for. Written with beauty and candour but without anger, Self-Portrait will yet arouse indignation in its readers, for its delicate exposure of what occurs in the pursuit and misuse of artistic status.

Rachel Cusk

An insight into the white knuckle determination needed to make great art, and why it is so few women painters reach the heights. An astoundingly honest book, moving and engrossing - full of truths.

Esther Freud

Self-Portrait by Celia Paul is a valuable document. The precision and intimacy of her writing is as impressive as the empathy and power of her painting. I feel that this book will be important to many readers.

Frank Auerbach

A wonderfully honest and thoughtful book, unburdened by anger or blame or the need to justify, even though it is conjuring up the presence of such a difficult and complicated man. The words make pictures in my head, just as the pictures make words.

Julia Blackburn

I loved Celia Paul's memoir. It reminded me what it felt like to be a very young painter - and also just very young.

Chantal Joffe

Celia's writing, like her painting, is unflinchingly honest and utterly heart wrenching. This book charts how as an artist and a young woman, with the sensitivity of a butterfly and the ferocity of a lion, Celia Paul makes her way through these enthralling and bewildering formative years.

Vicken Parsons

A deeply affecting and lyrical self-portrait of the artist as a young woman, which quietly builds in strength and luminosity, culminating in a glorious state of serenity and self-knowledge.

Chloe Aridjis

A poetic, sometimes painfully honest memoir.

Tim Adams, Observer

Her story is striking. It is not, as has been assumed, the tale of a muse who later became a painter, but an account of a painter who, for ten years of her early life, found herself mistaken for a muse, by a man who did that a lot. Her book is about many things besides Freud: her mother, her childhood, her sisters, her paintings. But she neither rejects her past with Freud nor rewrites it... One of the subtle methods of this crafty book is insinuation, creating new feminist genealogies and hierarchies by implication... [A] powerful little book... What else will we start to see now the mist of misogyny begins to clear? Self-Portrait will go some way to clearing that mist from the world of portraiture.

Zadie Smith, New York Review of Books

Self-Portrait made me think of two recent, elliptical autobiographical projects that refuse to conform to traditional notions of intimate disclosure: Rachel Cusk's autofiction trilogy. and Joanna Hogg's film The Souvenir. Like Cusk and Hogg, Paul plays with the balance between confession and dispassion. In their different ways, all three are challenging our ideas about how autobiography works. There's something tremendously refreshing about Paul's lack of sensationalism. Self-Portrait is both the obvious extension of Paul's oeuvre, and a powerful, urgent and essential depiction of what it is to be a woman artist.

Lucy Scholes, Daily Telegraph

[An] insightful, unflinchingly honest account, she [Celia Paul] describes her need for space to work and think, her emotionally tempestuous 10-year relationship with Lucian Freud.

Eithne Farry, Sunday Express



A story of obsession and manipulation that sends our feelings on a rollercoaster... [Self-Portrait] turns into a sort of myth about the misuse of fame and the male ego, about the struggles faced by creative women, about the body in all its guises. Like a myth, it unfolds with confusions and contradictions, a terrible inevitability and many, many discomfiting truths.

Jan Dalley, Financial Times

I loved the painter Celia Paul's memoir Self-Portrait. It's fascinating for its account of her long-term lover Lucian Freud (he emerges as the ultimate man-baby, by turns charismatic, needy and breathtakingly selfish), but it's also painfully honest on what it means to be a woman who puts art first, no matter what.

Olivia Laing, New Statesman

[I was] very unprepared for the raw honesty and openness of this memoir... Among Freud's myriad relations, lovers and friends, none can have brought a reader so close to him, none can have detailed so tellingly the fluctuating dynamic of magnetism and despair, the assertion of will in the face of domination. Paul tells with brilliant immediacy the story of their first meeting, her reluctance, her fascination, her gradual succumbing. It is tender, exciting, touching and never prurient... Their ten-year relationship is told unflinchingly, without rancour or self-pity... Although this book will doubtless be cited in the bibliography of every book on Freud, it will more rightfully take its place at the top of the bibliography of every book on Celia Paul.

Honor Clerk, Spectator

In this fascinating memoir, you watch a woman being gradually eviscerated by love-torture. Illustrated with Celia Paul's paintings, it is partly a pitilessly honest re-living of that ten-year episode of her life, and partly a meditation on the eternal problem of how to juggle lovesickness and an artistic career. It's also an enthralling examination of female self-esteem: how it can be slowly destroyed and, eventually, rescued.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Daily Mail, *Book of the Week*

The publication of this, her first book, is of great significance... Having recently returned to writing again, she has found a new confidence, in words, in herself and in her painting... No longer wanting to remain simply a part of Freud's story, she wanted to make him part of her story, a narrative about her life as a painter. ... Paul's memoir therefore seems fresh, and comes as a surprise.

Frances Spalding, Guardian, *Book of the Week*

Beautifully written, and thoughtful

Joanna Moorhead, Tablet

Compelling... The story she relates through images and words has the feel of a painter's parable, in which hardship, sacrifice and solitude lead, eventually, to something like grace... Paul is uninterested in making herself appear more palatable for the benefit of a reader. She accounts for her life like a person peeling off her bandages, often asking her audience to share in her experiences of difficulty and hurt.

Rosanna McLaughlin, Frieze

A depiction of difficult relationships between artists-fruitful and terrifying. [Self-Portrait] is important and necessary.

Jonathan McAloon, Elephant

Paul is one of the most thoughtful and significant living women artists and Self-Portrait helps suggest why. Her painting and writing are of a piece - closely observed, not seeking to flatter, and with people always as her focus.

Michael Prodger, Sunday Times *Books of the Year*

Fascinating... Paul's paintings, interspersed throughout the book, are quite extraordinary - ambiguous and mystical... Her style is passionate [and] direct.

Joanna Kavenna, Literary Review

I have been reading the wonderful autobiography Self-Portrait by Celia Paul, which recounts her early life as an artist and her relationship with Lucian Freud, with whom she spent ten years and had a son.

Megan Nolan, New Statesman

An impressive portrait of the artist as a young woman...candid, non-judgemental and illuminating.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Oldie

It's a haunting companion piece to William Weaver's recent rumbustious biography of Lucian Freud, Paul's former lover. Freud's personal life made Picasso's seem a Victorian model of temperance and it's interesting to reflect on the slack cut for great artists, so long as they were men.

Annalena McAfee, Daily Mail

Beguiling. Self-Portrait illuminates how supremely difficult it is to make an artistic practice work alongside the demands of care-giving and home-making. The author draws on the rare reflective power she exhibits in her art, to communicate what, she found, painting could not.

Amie Corry, Times Literary Supplement

Captivating... Mesmerizing... Paul's powers of observation are keen and often ruthless.

Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

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