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6th self-portrait.

Charnley, Bryan, (1949-1991)
2 May 1991

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About this work

Also known as

Sixth self-portrait.


2 May 1991.

Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; 51 x 51 cm

Biographical note

Charnley's diary entry reads: "After the mental release the chemistry of the drugs really began to take effect and though had cut back to my dose when I started. 6 mg. Depixol, 50 mg. Triptysol, I was almost completely without energy. This expalins the simple technique. I hadn't the energy for anything else. this is expressed by the pupa, the torpid state in insects. The spirit, expressed by a bird, is crushed by the maggot. My Oedipus complex is represented by the hooded phallus. My conflict of thought expressed by the man with two heads, one is a nose. The clothes line is to say that all my dirty washing, or thoughts, are on display. The split crosses are a reference to schizophrenia being a type of ego crucifixion. The man with the hat is watching me and keeping everything under his hat. Additionally the split in the cross expresses lack of real direction, of a split in the will, as with the man with the nose head."
Bryan Charnley (1949-1991) was a British artist whose work illustrates his experiences of schizophrenia. In 1969 he enrolled on a BA in sculpture at the Central School of Art and Design, but left due to a breakdown. He started painting in 1978, and from the late 1980s he began to get recognition for his work, with Bethlem Royal Hospital purchasing four of his paintings. From 1987 to his death he kept a dream diary as a way of understanding his own mind. In March 1991 he decided to experiment with his medication and embarked on a series of self-portraits, a series which exposed his mental illness. The series was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1995. He took his own life in July 1991.


Bryan Charnley. 1991. 6th self-portrait. [Oil on canvas]. Wellcome Collection: Library no. 3049692i

Publications note

Reproduced in Charnley, J. (2018). Bryan Charnley: art and adversity, page 176.

Exhibitions note

Exhibited in ‘Bryan Charnley self-portraits: face to face with schizophrenia’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London, 21 July – 3 December 1995.


Title provided by the Estate of Bryan Charnley.
Dated 2/5/91 on recto. Numbered 6 on verso.


  • English

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