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.
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.