BBC Culture

Turning modern art’s faces into real-life portraits

  • Morphing a masterpiece
    Photographer Flora Borsi has made “real life” portraits based on the proportions of figures in paintings such as Kees van Dongen’s The Corn Poppy. (Copyright: Flora Borsi)
  • Photoshop Picasso
    The 20-year-old Hungarian posed in self-portraits and altered the facial features to resemble figures such as Picasso’s Woman with a Green Hat. (Copyright: Flora Borsi)
  • Gothic inspiration
    Borsi was inspired by a photo of models from Grant Wood’s American Gothic standing beside the painting. This is a recreation of a piece by Rudolf Hausner. (Copyright: Flora Borsi)
  • Polish portrait
    Portrait of a Polish Woman, a piece by acclaimed Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, is another artwork used for one of Borsi’s transformations. (Copyright: Flora Borsi)
  • Covering a classic
    Reworking Kazmir Malevich’s Woman’s Torso, Borsi had to shroud herself to mirror the picture’s surreal form. She now hopes to study photography full-time. (Copyright: Flora Borsi)


Artists have interpreted the human face to imaginative effect. What happens when a photographer tries to replicate their visions?

In the eyes of modern artists, the human form has become a design ripe for reappraisal. Exaggerating angles and skewing features, they have transformed our familiar features.

It’s an approach people can take now with a click of a button with computer graphic applications such as Photoshop. But Hungarian photographer Flora Borsi has gone one step further – taking self- portraits inspired by classic modern art paintings and morphing her features to resemble the artist’s original vision.

“I found a photo with the models who were used in Grant Wood’s American Gothic standing next to the painting,” Borsi, 20, tells BBC Culture. “Some artists use pure imagination to paint their artworks, others may prefer to create art by using a real life model as reference for the anatomy. What if these abstract models were real people?”

Borsi chose a handful of well-known paintings as the basis of her photos, each of which features a human face transformed. “I selected paintings, where the model's anatomy or face were really distorted, or bizarre,” Borsi says. “Each piece took eight to 12 hours to produce. First I had to find the right clothing, accessories and make-up. After that, I took the photographs, and recreated the real one's detail with Photoshop.”

Borsi’s recreations include a take on Picasso’s Woman With a Green Hat (1939) and Italian painter Mondigliani’s Portrait of a Polish Woman from 1919.

“I was the model for this project. I made the makeup and styling,” Borsi says. “That was not easy, because I had to find the right angle, position, and facial expression for each painting.”

Originally choosing four images, the pictures proved so popular with her online audience that she created another; a portrait based on Dutch artist Kees van Dongen’s The Corn Poppy (1919), a lurid portrait of a Parisian girl.

It’s not the first time the photographer has caused a stir with one of her projects. Earlier this year, her Time Travellers project saw her Photoshopping herself into historical pictures – such as the Beatles arriving in the US and Silent comedy star Harold Lloyd hanging from a clockface high above a city street – adding herself in and incongruous spectator brandishing a digital camera.

“The Time Travel series was exhausted after seven photos,” says Borsi, who plans to study photography at a university in Budapest. “In my opinion I won't continue any of my projects with a ‘part two’ - they are unique and unrepeatable.”

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