- A work of art
that represents a specific
person, a group of people, or an animal. Portraits usually show
what a person looks like as well as revealing something about
the subject's personality.
Portraits can be made of any sculpturalmaterial or in any
Portraiture is the field of portrait making and portraits in general.
"I would rather see the portrait
of a dog that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they
can shew me in the world."
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), English writer and lexicographer.
Johnson Miscellanies, edited by G.B. Hill, 1987.
"One is never satisfied with a portrait
of a person that one knows."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German writer, in his
Elective Affinities, book II, chapter 2.
"By means of a back, we want a temperament,
an age, a social condition, to be revealed; through a pair of
hands, we should be able to express a magistrate or a tradesman;
by a gesture, a whole series of feelings. A physiognomy will
tell us that this fellow is certainly an orderly, dry, meticulous
man, whereas that one is carelessness and disorderliness itself.
An attitude will tell us that this person is going to a business
meeting, whereas that one is returning from a love tryst. 'A
man opens a door; he enters; that is enough: we see that he has
lost his daughter.' Hands that are kept in pockets can be eloquent.
The pencil will be steeped in the marrow of life."
Edgar Degas (1834-1917), French Impressionist. Quoted by Edmond Duranty,
La Nouvelle Peinture: A Propos du Groupe d'Artistes Qui Expose
dans les Galleries Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1876, translated by
Linda Nochlin and included in the Sources and Documents series,
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1874-1904, Englewood
After his model -- Ambroise Vollard --
had posed for a portrait by Paul Cézanne for one hundred
and fifteen sittings, Cézanne abandoned the canvas with
"I am not altogether displeased with the shirt."
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), French Post-Impressionist
"If the man who paints only the tree,
or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist,
the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the
artist to do something beyond this: in portrait painting to put
on canvas something more than the face the model wears for that
one day; to paint the man, in short, as well as his features."
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), American painter and etcher.
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, "Propositions"
(1890). See aestheticism
and art for art's sake.
"Every portrait that is painted with
feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Anglo-Irish playwright, author. Said
by the character Basil Hallward, in The Picture of Dorian
Gray, chapter 1 (1891).
"A portrait is a painting with something
a little wrong with the mouth."
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), American painter of many portraits.
"The point on which we differ is
one which a long experience of portrait painting has made me
perfectly familiar-I have very often been reproached with giving
a hard expression to ladies' portraits, especially when I have
retained some look of intelligence in a face."
John Singer Sargent, undated letter.
"When you start with a portrait and
search for a pure form, a clear volume, through successive eliminations,
you arrive inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the
egg and following the same process in reverse, one finishes with
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish artist. Intransigeant
(Paris, June 15, 1932).
"What is a face, really? Its own
photo? Its make-up? Or is it a face as painted by such or such
painter? That which is in front? Inside? Behind? And the rest?
Doesn't everyone look at himself in his own particular way? Deformations
simply do not exist."
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish artist. Arts de France,
no. 6 (Paris, 1946). Quoted in: Picasso on Art (edited
by Dore Ashton, 1972).
"A portrait, to be a work of art,
neither must nor may resemble the sitter . . . the painter has
within himself the landscapes he wishes to produce. To depict
a figure one must not paint that figure; one must paint its atmosphere."
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Italian Futurist painter and sculptor.
Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, April 11, 1910.
A joke: "The Portrait":
A woman decided to have her portrait painted. She told the apinter
of the commission, "Paint me wearing diamond rings, a diamond
necklace, emerald bracelets, a ruby brooch, and a gold Rolex."
"But you aren't wearing any of those things," the painter
"I know," the woman said. "It's in case I should
die before my husband. I'm sure he will remarry right away, and
I want his new wife to go crazy looking for the jewelry."