Archive for the ‘Great Portraitists’ Category

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn – Great Portrait Artist

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Known to be one of the most celebrated portrait painters in history, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606 in Leiden, Dutch Republic. He came from a well-off family and was given a good education by his parents. During his younger years, he studied at a Latin school and attended the University of Leiden at age 14. Studying in the university did not please him, as painting was what he really wanted to do. Rembrandt eventually left the university to pursue his great love for the arts and became a student of Jacob van Swanenburgh, a local history painter. He stayed with this Leiden master for 3 years, after which he met his greatest teacher Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. His apprenticeship with Pieter lasted for only 6 months, but it taught him enough to become a master portrait artist like his teachers. He returned to his homeland in 1624 and at age 22, he started teaching and sharing his craft to aspiring students. This was the beginning of Rembrandt’s great journey towards prominence in the world of arts.

As seen on his paintings, Rembrandt is considered to be the most precise and insightful portrait painters who ever lived. That is why most of his contemporaries believe that he is indeed the greatest portraitist of the human face. With his expertise in shadow and light effects known as chiaroscuro, his human portraits exude a realistic and soulful representation of feelings unlike any other artist. In a personal letter, Rembrandt expressed what he wanted to realize in his paintings and that is to portray the greatest and most natural movement.

Rembrandt was also deeply spiritual and biblical in his paintings. He was a master portraitist of biblical stories and divine interpretations. The Blinding of Samson was one of his biblical masterpieces which he created in 1636 at Frankfurt. He impeccably combined worldly and spiritual aspects that show his deep understanding of human existence.

Rembrandt’s most renowned painting was the Night Watch, or commonly called The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq. It is an oil-on-canvass type of painting which he completed in 1642. The Night Watch is notably displayed in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam as the most famous painting in their exhibition. The portrait is well-known because of 3 notable features: its huge size of 363 cm × 437 cm (142.9 in × 172.0 in), the dramatic light and shadow or chiaroscuro effect, and the depiction of a military activity that seemed to be moving rather than static. The painting shows many characters; the most notable of which are Captain Frans Banning Cocq who was dressed in black and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch who was dressed in yellow. There were many other figures in the painting but Rembrandt seamlessly presented the picture with great balance. Rembrandt also used symbolisms on this painting, as exemplified by the girl dressed in yellow with claws of a dead chicken on her belt. The claws represented the Arquebusiers, the soldiers of the sixteenth century. The victory of the Arquebusiers is signified by the prominent yellow color in the portrait, with the defeat of the opponent as characterized by the dead chicken. With the lifelike and controversial effect of the Night Watch portrait, it is undoubtedly one of Rembrandt’s greatest works.

Author:    Shyxter

Ozias Humphrey

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Ozias Humphrey was born in the Devon region of England (1742-1810), and he painted oils, pastels, watercolors, and portrait miniatures in the latter part of the 18th century.  He traveled widely, studying in London and Bath and receiving commissions on his way to exotic destinations like India and Italy.  Arguably Humphrey’s best known work is the portrait in oils that was only recently attributed to him, referred to as The Rice Portrait.  It was put up for auction at Christie’s in April of 2007, but interest did not surpass the minimum bid that was set.  The owners rightly assumed that it should have great value given its intriguing story, although in a fluctuating economy like ours, it remains difficult to designate how much value.  It’s no Octopussy Faberge egg, I suppose.

The auction was a newsworthy event, anyway, because Ozias Humphrey’s Rice Portrait is an important historical piece.  The lovely full-length portrait depicting a young woman holding a green parasol and wearing a long princess-cut white dress with short sleeves and lace detailing is believed by some to be of Jane Austen (1775-1817).  Others dispute this claim, saying the clothing style is off by a decade.  The portrait had been reproduced as the frontispiece to the 1884 collection of her letters, which was published by Jane Austen’s great-nephew, Edward, Lord Brabourne.  Ever since, it has been associated with the famed novelist.

The realistic oil painting portrays details such as the blush and sweet look of a lady’s face, the soft reflection on her slippers, and outlines of several features of landscape behind her.  It covers a canvas sized 142.2 x 92.7cm (56 x 36.5 in).  Interestingly, Humphrey originally painted portrait miniatures, but failing eyesight caused him to need to enlarge his medium of choice, as with the Rice Portrait.  As well, if Humphrey did in fact come into contact with Jane Austen, she was not the only literary figure with whom he worked.  William Blake both wrote letters to and commissioned paintings by Ozias Humphrey.

Author: Julie Ann

Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Lebrun

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Lebrun was a painter born in Paris in 1755.  Her father painted fans and portraits, and he was her first painting instructor.  She began painting portraits professionally as a teenager, and throughout her lifetime received patronage from very powerful and wealthy people, as is evidenced by the titles in the titles of many of her oil portraits (i.e., Baroness, Prince, Marquise, Countess, Duchess, Count, etc.).  She traveled widely, partly due to the French Revolution, to locations such as St. Petersburg and Vienna.  She was perhaps best known as earning a position as the court painter for Marie Antoinette, and as a rare female member of the French Academy of Arts, but she also painted Catherine the Great and gained membership to the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

Vigee Lebrun’s style was notable in its diversity, and she has been described as sometimes sacrificing the ideal of perfect likeness for her desire for a more perfectly palatable composition.  One of her themes is the idealization of mother plus daughter within portraits, and it is lovely to note how many of her self portraits are available for contemporary art lovers’ enjoyment.  To compare her Self Portrait with Daughter, in which she and her young daughter Julie are so naturally embracing each other while dressed in modest peasant-artist style clothing, with Portrait of Marie Antoinette and Children illustrates what range she had as a painter.  Marie Antoinette’s pale skinned facial features seem to lack the details apparent in the sumptuous surroundings, right down to the pattern and tassels of the pillow under her feet.  The children look cherubic, as they often do in Vigee Lubrun’s paintings, and they are painted with the same look of devotion in their eyes that Julie appears to have in each portrait in which she appears.

Vigee Lebrun’s portrait of Lord Byron is a fine example of her ability to capture important qualities about her subjects.  By pairing careful brushstrokes with her sensitivity to the subtle aspects of personality, she revealed his dashing romantic poet disposition.  He looks off to the side, as if distracted, and his curls are carefully rendered yet slightly wild.  The fact that she earned herself opportunities to paint so many notable 18th century figures attests to her skills as a painter of character, not just physical characteristics, of people.

Author: Julie Ann

Thomas Gainsborough

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Thomas Gainsborough was a celebrated and sought-after portrait painter born in 1727 in Sudbury, England.  As a boy, he was inspired to draw the countryside near his home, and throughout his life he also painted landscapes.  Gainsborough began his professional career by studying in London with a French engraver named Gravelot, and eventually he became affiliated with William Hogarth, a famous English engraver.

Gainsborough’s well-known portraits include “The Blue Boy” and “The Morning Walk.”  His treatment of the clothing on both of these illustrate why critics continue to point to the work of Dutch painter van Dyck as influential to Gainsborough’s style.  Viewers note the superb ephemeral quality of the ruffled, gauzy fabrics on the couple in “The Morning Walk” as well as the lacy collar and shimmery velvet-like appearance of the boy’s blue suit.  The backgrounds of these two paintings are similar in that they are set outdoors and include loosely rendered trees, but the tone is very different.  The couple’s walk (and indeed their life together) seems idyllic because of the blue sky, the doting and friendly dog, and the shelter provided by the tree.  The young boy, however, seems dashing and heroic in the foreground of a somewhat darker and more troubled sky.  Viewers have the impression that he is emerging from something sublime because in the distance, there is just a great beyond.

Another part of Gainsborough’s career that is of interest is that he helped decorate the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens, which was a center of emerging culture during his time.  Googling Gainsborough images allows one to see that he clearly contributed to that culture, as he created numerous lovely portraits of middle class and aristocratic people.  The variety of backgrounds, from Greek ruins to oil paintings, as well as the array of fashionable clothing, has helped preserve aspects of cultural history that are invaluable.  Gainsborough passed away in 1788 after an illustrious career in oil painting that earned him a place as one of the founders of the Royal Society of Arts.  His ability to flatter subjects with strokes of his oil paint brushes is the best explanation for his status and fame.

Author: Julie Ann