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5th self-portrait.

Charnley, Bryan, (1949-1991)
29 April 1991

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About this work

Also known as

Fifth self-portrait.


Wooden stage with a backdrop in three panels: coloured stripes on the left, blue, purple and white stripes on the right, and a central panel containing separate facial features and a cigarette. The text in the painting reads "she broke her needl" and "love is strange".


29 April 1991.

Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; 50.9 x 50.9 cm

Biographical note

Charnley's diary entry reads: "Things had really begun getting out of hand. A strange spiritual force was making me feel I could not smoke or else I would incur a disaster. This was driving me crazy as normally I am a heavy smoker. I walked and walked throwing my pouch of tobacco away. I had taken 15 tablets of Depixol on 12th April to try and throw off spiritual demands that were driving me crazy along with the E.S.P. but to no avail... When I arrived home from one of my long walks my twin phoned. I told him how I felt and he said some words of truth that completely cut through the situation to the bone and rendered spiritual forces thankfully impotent . I wrote, to complement "Love hurts" of 23/4/91, "Love is strange" because this was the first real help I had been given in my illness... The painting also illustrates a stage, as in a theatre, as I feel I am being watched."
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. 5th self-portrait. [Oil on canvas]. Wellcome Collection: Library no. 3049691i

Publications note

Charnley, J. (2018). Bryan Charnley: art and adversity, page 175.

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 29.4.91 on recto. Numbered 5 on verso.


  • English

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