Self Portraits from the Permanent Collection

Vincent Van Gogh made 30; Frida Kahlo, 55. Rembrandt van Rijn’s are thought to number in the dozens (since his apprentices often copied them, it is hard to be certain). Self-portraits have always been an appealing mode for artists—the sitter is always available, for a start—often created for the benefit of posterity. They have long been of interest to art historians for that reason, as the choices artists make when depicting their outer appearance tells the viewer something about how they regard their inner selves, too.

This exhibition explores self-portraits from PAAM’s permanent collection.  It includes figurative drawings as well as more conceptual or abstract representations of personal identity in a variety of media.


The permanent collection is an important measure of any museum’s value. At PAAM, the holdings of local and regional art is extensive and dynamic, comprising nearly 4,000 works by over 700 Twentieth Century and contemporary artists who have worked in Provincetown and on Cape Cod. Their styles were revolutionary and remain noteworthy in the history of American Art. The PAAM Collection weaves together at least three major art movements—each a significant strand of American art history—and creates perspectives that uniquely position the Provincetown Art Colony as a pertinent fixture to the larger art world.

Another measure of a museum is how well it uses its collection. The PAAM Collection serves as a foundation for many of our educational programs and exhibitions. Programs for both youth and adults in our Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Museum School use collection works to stimulate creativity. The Museum School courses take advantage of gallery exhibitions to clarify principles and techniques. Additionally, major museums and galleries borrow exemplary works for exhibitions around the country.

Embedded into PAAM’s mission, the collection is truly at the heart of our organization. A glance at the newly released Permanent Collection catalog shows how many hundreds of people have been moved to express their generosity through contributions that make up virtually the whole collection. Amassed over an entire century, PAAM’s collection has been donated by people who really cared that the region’s art remain here.

Image: Lester Johnson (1919–2010), Self-Portrait in Red No. 1, 1959–61, PAAM Collection, Gift of Josephine Johnson, 2014