John Lennon’s Self-Portrait

John Lennon Painting , shot May 2014 by Steve Behr / Stockfile

Lennon Self-Portrait

No, this isn’t THAT self-portrait–the home movie of the same name, depicting John’s penis in various states of erection (which Yoko has kept under wraps and Beatle fans have been trying to find ever since), but this, an early oil painting done by the man himself, up for auction by Cooper Owen Music Media Auctions in 2014.

According to the auction site,

John Lennon’s first ever self-portrait that he painted at art college in 1958 has emerged for sale in our next auction. The abstract work in oil depicts a red figure side-on with unflattering features including ‘moobs’ and a large stomach.

Lennon was at Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles’ original bassist, and this portrait is thought to have been painted as part of a project on their course.

During his time at college Lennon became known for drawing cartoons and misshapen, satirical characters. He later dropped out to concentrate on his music.

The portrait, which has been authenticated by the Stuart Sutcliffe estate, has Lennon’s name printed on the back, as was the method at his college. It is sure to attract massive interest not just because it is unique but because 1958 was a hugely important year in Lennon’s life.

It was during those 12 months that his mother was killed after being hit by a car driven by an off-duty policeman and he also met his first wife Cynthia. He had started at art college that year and it was also in 1958 when he, Paul McCartney and George Harrison first played together.

However, this work shows his talent for art, a hobby that later in his life he returned to. The figure in red is set against a black background and looks drawn and despondent. The distinctive spectacles are absent and it appears he had turned his skill for unflattering depictions on himself.

“self-portrait’, by Sutcliffe

“self-portrait’, by Sutcliffe

My first reaction was that the self-portrait doesn’t seem Lennonesque, man boobs notwithstanding. Could it have been a painting of John, by Stu?  Cooper herself described the Lennon self-portrait, which went on sale for 3 million, as “similar to Sutcliffe’s work of the same period,” so maybe it’s possible.

At any rate, I thought it was an interesting find and wanted to share it with y’all.

(Edited to Add:  if you want to see a collection of Sutcliffe’s art, here’s a link.  He really had a wonderful talent, IMO.)



17 Comments

  1. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    I’m confused about how this came up for auction. Did it originally belong to the Sutcliffes?

    As for the art itself: John sees himself as fat, limp and un-masculine? That squares with my impression of John’s self-image.

    • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

      I dunno Chelsea–my guess is that the Sutcliffe estate is selling it.

      (Edited to add: I guess the Sutcliffe estate DID own it, which is interesting in and of itself.)

    • Avatar Thea wrote:

      John sees himself as fat, limp and un-masculine?

      I sat belonely down a tree,
      humbled fat and small. ? 🙂

      • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

        Interesting. I never made the connection. I expected John to draw his self-portrait with warts and flies all over it. This self-portrait is so….serious, I guess. That’s what threw me.

        • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

          Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his paintings before. This isn’t really what I expected either, Karen. I guess I’m used to all his “funny little men” (which personally I don’t really care for, but that’s just a matter of taste).

          • John’s funny little men are a somewhat common style of comic illustration in the late fifties and sixties. I like ’em, because I like that style.

          • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

            I was so curious when you said that, MG, because it twigged a memory of early 60’s tv ads, like these guys.

  2. Avatar Wen wrote:

    “My first reaction was that the self-portrait doesn’t seem Lennonesque, man boobs notwithstanding. Could it have been a painting of John, by Stu?”

    Actually, it seems very Lennonsque to me. If you remove all the colors and trace the figure with thinner lines, it will look like just another cartoon figure Lennon used to draw all the time.

    But regarding the color of the painting, it does seem to be related to Stu’s, perhaps John was influenced by Stu’s paintings, or perhaps Stu painted it for him, we don’t know.

    I love art and paint a lot in my spare time, in my humble opinion, this doesn’t seem to be Stu’s portrait of John. First, Stu was a very talented painter, his work should be better than this. Second, Stu’s paintings, although seemingly disordered, were actually quite “stringent” in core, or should I say, he made some careful arrangement to disarrange the composition…(I don’t know how to describe it). I’ve seen some of John’s collages, including the famous eyeball collage for Paul. When color is involved, his art works are quite creepy, it could almost make you feel uncomfortable. And the compositions also make me feel uneasy, it is far less harmonious than Stu’s. I think John’s artwork reflects his personality, being both simple minded and disturbed.

    • Avatar Karen Hooper wrote:

      I think you’re right, Wen. Stu’s work is more complex. I could almost see John and Stu painting side by side, with John influenced by Stu’s use of colour, etc.

      • Avatar Wen wrote:

        Agree, they could be painting side by side, and I can almost see John said to Stu, “I need a bloody red color, can you make some for me” , then that explains it.

      • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

        I really like all of Stuart’s work. I don’t think I’ve seen anything of his that wasn’t impressive. I genuinely like Paul’s paintings, too.

  3. Avatar Nicole wrote:

    On the topic of John and art, how about artwork OF John? Namely, this interview by Paul when he was promoting his paintings in 2001. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N0CygayJ5o

    PAUL: If I’m going to see a face in a painting it’s highly likely to be [John’s].
    Q: Do you think of him during the day or did this come, is this an unusual thing?
    PAUL: I think of John a lot. Yeah. Because we were such good friends for so long. I also used to do little caricatures of his, him. It was quite easy to draw, this long aquiline nose and the sort of glasses and he used to have big sideburns, as you call them. Sideboards is what we call ’em. Um, so I used to draw him quite a bit. When we were just sitting around I’d do caricatures.

    We also have this from the same time period. http://www.theguardian.com/g2/story/0,3604,366861,00.html

    One of the paintings is called “Is this a self-portrait?” I ask him if it is. “I don’t know. It looks just a bit like me in the Beatles.” I say it also looks like John Lennon. “Uh huh, well hence the title. ‘Is it a self-portrait?’ ”

    This is the image (also attached below): http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/devilandmouse/7500427/6259/6259_900.png

    And finally, of course, one which is clearly John:

    • Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

      Thanks for the link to that Guardian piece, Nicole.
      Did Paul do both the pieces you attached? That one of Clearly John is amazing!

      • Avatar Nicole wrote:

        As far as I know, yes! It appeared in that 1997 programme/documentary on Flaming Pie, IIRC. There’s a subtitled version on YouTube so I was able to check. This is the segment on his art: https://youtu.be/1_j4CZ3RD9w?t=2m Quite an interesting edit on the film as well, regarding the music and how the picture of John is presented.

        (Also, congrats, self, on botching your first attempt to attach pictures properly )

    • Avatar Wen wrote:

      I love this painting! It is like Paul (subconsciously?) wants to say he and John are two souls in one body. And the colors, perhaps revealing his emotions, are quite intense but dark too.

      Half of the face was clearly John, it reminds me of this portrait below. Paul might have it in mind when he was doing the painting. The other half looks like Paul, but interestingly, it is more obscure, less sure.

  4. Avatar Wen wrote:

    Speaking of Paul’s paintings, I love this one too. It was done in 1994, the title is “Unspoken words”. It is interesting not because of what he tried to say, but just that I think the three figures are apparently Linda, James (his son) and John.

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