Why are portraits so important in art history? And even in museums today, some of which are dedicated to portraits (like the National Portrait Gallery in London)...
Within European art history, portraits are one of the genres within the hierarchy of genres and elsewhere, portraits have more or less always existed as representations of people from real life.
👀Portraiture was a way to make money
For much of history, artworks were mostly produced based on commissions. That is, artists wouldn’t primarily produce works and then put them up for sale (Although this became more common as time went on); rather, they would get commissioned to create something that the buyer wanted
👀Portraiture can be fascinating because it tells us about the subject When you choose to depict a person, you’re making decisions around what story to tell about that person. There is no such thing as a neutral portrait; This is why many people find portraits fascinating: they tell us something about the subject and tell us how that subject wanted to be depicted or how the artist wanted to depict them.
👀Self-portraiture is seen as a way to gain insight into an artist’s psyche Many people are fascinated by self-portraiture in particular as a way to gain insight into the psyches of artists throughout history. Similarly, to how portraits tell us stories about their subjects, self-portraits can tell us something about the internal life of the artists.
Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous self-portraitists, creating more than fifty paintings of herself throughout her life, exploring different aspects of her inner life and psychology. One of her most famous self-portraits, The Two Fridas (1939), represents two aspects of herself.
Vincent van Gogh is instantly recognizable by his reddish hair and beard, his gaunt features, and intense gaze. Van Gogh painted some 36 self-portraits in the space of only ten years. Perhaps only Rembrandt produced more, and his career spanned decades. Like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, the portrait was a critical exploration of personal realization and aesthetic achievement for many artists.
Do you want to learn how to do a portrait in the classic style? Ask us how.