When artists of this area created self-portraits or portraits of their friends, the subjects’ external features were no longer the focus. Instead they sought to express something of the person’s interior, his or her psyche, dreams and imagination. Particularly in selfportraits, there was an emphasis on the notion of the artist as an intuitive visionary. Hugo Simberg, for instance, was opposed to book learning and saw technical brilliance as a direct obstacle to genuine, truthful artistic expression.
Many of the era’s portraits emphasise the gaze. The self-portraits of Ellen Thesleff and Edvard Munch create direct, intensive contact between the artist and the viewer. The gaze may also be downcast, which underlined the artists’ contemplativeness and melancholic tendencies, as in Halfdan Egedius’s painting The Dreamer (Portrait of Torleiv Stadskleiv, 1899). The melancholy of the era was marked by sensitivity and waves of self-confidence and self-doubt.