News - Tracey Emin's Death Mask


The National Portrait Gallery has acquired Death Mask by artist Tracey Emin...

Death Mask was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery accompanying a new display Life, Death and Memory which looks at the complex and sometimes troubling relationship between portraiture and mortality, drawing together historic and contemporary works from the Gallery’s Collection.

In an ironic reference to the autobiographical nature of her work, Tracey Emin cast her own ‘death mask’ during her lifetime, creating her first sculptural work in bronze in 2002.

At the heart of the artist’s preoccupation with self-disclosure and her constant engagement with, and exploration of, her own life and body, Emin says that in this work she offers herself in perpetuity as an enclosed specimen or museum display, literally transforming herself into an object for the scrutiny of generations to come. The portrait joins one other work by the artist in the Gallery’s Collection, Tracey Emin ('The Last Thing I said to you is don't leave me here. 1'), a photographic print from the year 2000. 

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, said ‘We are delighted to have acquired Death Mask by Tracey Emin, one of the most striking and singular portraits to join the Gallery’s Collection in recent years. Drawing on the history of this very particular form of portraiture, Tracey Emin has taken the idea of the death mask to create an innovative work that challenges our perceptions of self-portraiture.’ 


Emin’s portrait accompanies the display Life, Death and Memory, which includes a death mask of John Constable; seventeenth century memento mori paintings of sitters with skulls including the diarist John Evelyn and the botanist and gardener John Tradescant the Younger; and posthumous portraits including Sir Antony van Dyck’s commemorative painting of Venetia, Lady Digby.

There are also works on the theme by Ian Breakwell and Sam Taylor-Johnson, the last portrait for which the artist, film-maker and gardener Derek Jarman sat; and a moving photograph of the New Labour strategist Philip Gould, diagnosed with terminal cancer, standing on his burial plot at Highgate Cemetery nine days before his death in 2011. 

Rab MacGibbon, curator of Life, Death and Memory and Associate Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London, said ‘Artists have frequently explored their mortality in self-portraits. Tracey Emin’s Death Mask, the newly-acquired bronze cast of the artist’s face, blurs the distinctions between life and death, art and identity.’  

Tracey Emin studied at Maidstone College of Art (1986-8) and the Royal College of Art (1987-9). Her work discloses the intimate details of her life across a range of media. Notable works include Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995), shown at the Sensation exhibition (Royal Academy, 1997), and My Bed (1998). Emin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and was elected a Royal Academician in the same year. She was awarded a CBE in 2012.

Death Mask by Tracey Emin accompanies the display Life, Death and Memory in Room 15/16, Second Floor, National Portrait Gallery, London, 13 April 2017-16 April 2018, Admission free.

Images - Death Mask by Tracey Emin, 2002 © Tracey Emin /National Portrait Gallery, London