What is a Portrait?

What is a portrait?

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A few days ago, when I reviewed my series of #FridayPaintings, I realized that I had primarily chosen portraits to be my featured “art of the week.”

As I look into the eyes that return my gaze from a painting, I imagine that I am reaching across time to engage with a person who remains alive, ever present because an artist captured their face in a painting. From Saskia van Uylenburgh to The Irish Girl, The Mona Lisa, Virginia Woolf, and Vincent van Gogh self-portrait, I feel a kindred spirit with a person who once lived, laughed, cried, dreamed and loved in a time past.

A portrait of my mother, Frances.

What is a Portrait? It is easy to look up a definition of the word portrait.  A portrait is a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders.  While a definition gives us a structure, we intuitively know there is much more.  The face holds a story, one that has been shaped by the sitter and the artist.

“After a while I murmured to Picasso that I liked his portrait of Gertrude Stein. Yes, he said, everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will, he said.” Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

In this excellent video, The National Galleries of Scotland asks visitors, and artists to talk about what portraiture means to them. 

24 Replies to “What is a Portrait?”

  1. Ein kunstvolles und charmantes Portrait Ihrer Mutter Frances, handkoloriert und mit einem unvergesslichen Touch versehen. Ein lieber Gruss in Ihren Tag Rebecca mit einer Umarmung.

    Übrigens heisst eine Tochter von mir Sarah Rebecca. (JG 1970). Ist das nicht lustig.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sagen Sie Ihrer Tochter, dass sie einen wunderbaren Namen hat – Rebecca! Während viele meiner Freunde und Familie mich “Becky” nannten, nannte mich mein Vater immer “Rebecca”. Das ist eine meiner wertvollsten Erinnerungen. Ich bin dankbar für die Fotos, die aus der Vergangenheit gekommen sind. Ich liebe die farbige Tönung dieses Fotos. Ich wünsche dir ein fröhliches Wochenende. Alles Gute für dich und deine wundervolle Familie. Sag hallo zu Rebecca.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Vielen Dank Rebecca für deine guten Wünsche, die ich gerne erwidere. Ich werde Tochter Sarah Rebecca über die interessante und geschätzte Kommunikation mit Dir erzählen. Ich wünsche Dir herrliche Sommertage und grüsse dich herzlich.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Graham! I agree – there is a certain charm of yesteryear to this hand-tinted photographs. I am amazed by the longevity of these photographs. I have photos of my great grandparents that fared better than photos of this centuries. They are in pristine conditions, without any care to the preservation of the photos. They have been kept in old drawers etc. I know that the paper was different, but it seems so was the photography development. I continue to learn…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is wonderful that we still have these physical reminders of generations past. Something that will be lost to future generations with everything being digital these days…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful portrait Rebecca. And I love the quotes,especially Oscar Wilde, he’s so right, it’s the interpretation of the painter of the subject. And it’s interesting to see what an artist makes prevalent in their work. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Debby! I love the look and feel of these yesteryear portraits. They had the nuance of elegance that came with wearing hats, silk scarves and gloves. I agree – there is so much of the artist that is captured in a portrait! Many thanks for connecting – so very much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for posting my high school graduation picture and thank you to all those who made such kind comments. The short video about portraits was excellent and instructive. It is gratifying to listen to those who are involved in the production of portraits and paintings and to learn from their experience and ideas. I continue to learn! !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I continue to learn too, Frances! Do you remember sitting for that portrait? I am delighted that these photographs from the past have come into my possession. Now, I’m looking at how to preserve them for the next generations. It is so easy to lose the past as we move through life. Portraits are fascinating. And now we live in the selfie age, which is a great way to document moments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I remember! ! ! Our graduating class, all of us, went to North Platte to a special photography shop that specialized in grad photos. It was quite a day. The photographers were used to developing grad photos. They took each of our photos, took our orders and mailing information and made a special picture with all of us in line to be displayed in the school auditorium. I wonder what happened to that! ! !

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Mary Jo. I think this was her high school graduation portrait. I often think of how it would have been to meet Frances at 18. In a recent phone conversation, she said that time had wings. I responded – I am still learning to flap my wings.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Frances is a beauty, like a porcelain doll.
    The colour of her eyes is only usurped by the gentle nature they exude. Her smile is desired, uniquely acquired.
    Thank you for sharing this. I have become fond of her from following you!
    This might sound crazy… but I feel my drawings of the AGMs, RR, PBH, Boogapony and Rebecca Budd (Art Director) are portraits.
    They may be animated… glamorous caricatures or old fashioned fashion captures, but I see and feel everyone I draw.
    {{{hugs}}}

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Resa – your AGMs, RR, PBH Boogpony and definitely,the Art Director are all portraits. Your bring a presence and nuance to those drawings that is unmistakable and unique to each of our personalities. I have viewed your portraits when I visit each of the blogs. What is remarkable is that you capture our likenesses via words – via posts and comments. The portraits from the past used paper that seems to be indestructible. I have photos of my grandparents that are in perfect condition. I must look back into the type of paper they were using. I continue to learn. Hugs (P.S. Frances sends her love along with mine)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aww, Frances!!! xoxo
        The paper was better, because of the chemicals it was treated with… which is basically less.
        Thank you ,Rebecca… about my portraits of you and all! {{hugs}}

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a beautiful portrait of your mother, Rebecca. Kindness of the heart is reflected in her eyes and smile.
    Every portrait is the connection of the artist with the person they’re painting (self included). Sometimes that connection is imaginary and sometimes real but most of the times it’s the very essense of that connection.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Marine – that is an excellent definition – “The very essence of that connection.” Perhaps that is why selfies are popular – it is a way of connecting with ourselves and is a memento mori I love this photo of Frances. Every age has a different way of taking portraits. The paper has longevity compared to our photo paper. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

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