Profiles of Inspiration

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Last year, I got to visit one of my old haunts, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, for the first time in over a dozen years. Since the permanent collection has changed little over the years, it was good to see old friends. Standing before one, I found a familiar visage that I was not expecting to see.

Recently, Steven Heller wrote here about Milton Glaser’s famous Bob Dylan poster. In his seminal 1973 tome, Graphic Design, Glaser credits Marcel Duchamp as the inspiration for his dramatic profile silhouette. Duchamp’s Self-Portrait in Profile was created less than a decade prior.

Glaser’s Dylan poster, 1966

As it turns out, Duchmap created several such self-portraits. The first was for the cover of a monograph of his work by Robert Lebel, Sur Marcel Ducamp, published in 1958, and for the accompanying poster for an exhibition at Librairie Lan Hune in Paris the following year. Duchamp utilized a zinc template of his profile, originally featured as an artistic work in its own right in 1957, and tore paper around it. He repeated the process for later editions of the book with contributions by Ulf Linde (1963) and Shuzo Takiguchi (1968). He also executed various examples as gifts for friends.

Above and below: Various Duchamp self-portraits, late 1950s

Poster, 1959

Zinc portrait, 1957

Glaser wasn’t the only one to draw inspiration from these self-portraits. Jasper Johns also paid homage to Duchamp in his 1964 collage M.D.

Jasper Johns

But back to the Norton Simon Museum. It was as I stood before Pablo Picasso’s Woman with a Book, painted in 1932 as a portrait of his then-lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, that I was reminded of Duchamp. On the wall behind the main figure is what I first thought to be a framed painting of a very familiar-looking silhouette. Although the colors are reversed, the angle and composition are remarkably similar.


Picasso detail

It turns out that Picasso, in turn, had based his work on the portrait of Ines Moitessier by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, begun in 1844 and completed in 1856. Whether it was the reflection of her profile in the mirror behind her or that of her headwear that inspired Picasso is uncertain, but the image hanging on the wall in Picasso’s painting is clearly a reference to the mirror in Ingres’s portrait.


It is believed that Ingres himself based this painting on Portrait of a Lady (“La Schiavona’) by Titian, created circa 1510. Now I can’t help but wonder: Where did Titian draw his inspiration from?



For more Milton Glaser, check out his webinar, with Mirko Ilic, on the Design of Dissent.