Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Portrait, portraiture, self-portraits

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

I have some friends debating what exactly a portrait is. Wiki defines a portrait as a painting, photograph or sculpture or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.

Before the advent of photography portraiture was one of the mainstays of an artist's income. People wanted accurate and life like representations of  their loved ones. However it proved that even confined to black and white the camera could do this better.
Thomas Dilward by Matthew Brady

So with the impressionists painters began going a different direction with portraiture. It became less about an exact physical representation of the figure being painted and more about the personality or life force of the individual.
Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso

Martel Chapman by Pablo Picasso

The goal of some artists with a portrait or self-portrait became to tell whole stories as in Freda Kahlo's self-portrait Roots.

Salvador Dali got even further out with his famous Portrait of Picasso where he tried through surrealism to represent the complex personality of his friend and subject.

Andrew Wyeth in his famous Cristina's World does not show us the face of his subject but what her life is about.

All of which raised the issue among artists and even photographers if any representation of the actual physical person had to be in the image of a portrait. Could you in fact say as much about your subject by taking a photograph of their studio?

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