The history of art involves many
movements, including portrait painting, landscapes and non
figurative art of modern times. The portrait artist has always
been a prominent figure in the art world. Many artists have
depended on money from patrons who commissioned portraits of
themselves, their families and friends. Members of royalty and
the aristocracy of Europe loved to pose in front of their
country estates, their hunting dogs at their side.
Religious art was the dominant force in art over many
centuries, with depictions of Christ and John the Baptist being
favorite subjects for the portrait artist. The Renaissance was
a golden period for portraits and Botticelli, Raphael and da
Vinci were at the forefront. Leonardo's Mona Lisa is probably
the most famous portrait in the world and no one is sure who
she really was.
Dutch artists have been successful in this genre too, such
as Jan van Eyck, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and
Rembrandt. Group portraits became popular, as exemplified in
Rembrandt's Night Watch from 1642. English painters have
contributed too, particularly in the works of Thomas
Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
French Impressionist artists brought a new dimension to
portrait painting, blending a realistic and individual view.
Courbet, Manet, Renoir, Monet and Degas were leading examples
of portrait artist, breaking down the barriers of convention of
their times. Toulouse-Lautrec specialized in capturing the
dancers at the theatres that he frequented. Post Impressionists
such as Van Gogh and Gauguin were keen portraitists. As with a
lot of artists over the years, Van Gogh struggled financially
and painted many self-portraits in order to save money on
Twentieth century movements experimented with portrait
painting, especially in the case of the Cubists. Picasso,
Braque and others approached portraits with a geometric method
that shocked many art critics at the time. Matisse was another
portrait artist who explored new techniques, applying bold
colors to his figures.
One of the most collectible portrait painters of recent
times is Andy Warhol and his most famous depictions are part of
popular culture. He liked the patronage of the rich and famous,
such as Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. As a contemporary
portrait artist, he took advantage of the mass production
prints that bore his name.
Portraits fell out of favor in the latter part of the
twentieth century, along with other realistic forms of art.
Some artists are still celebrated in the genre however, such as
the English painter, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.