What are your favorite portraits?
February 14, 2017 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Do your have a favorite portrait of someone (painting, photograph, sculpture, whatever)? What makes it so great?? I am trying to figure out what makes a great portrait, and looking for examples.
posted by mortaddams to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Lord Ribblesdale by Sargent.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:39 AM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Bust of Henry VII
posted by shibori at 5:48 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bellini's portrait of the Doge Leonardo Loredan. Unforgettable once you see it in person.

It is very realistic and conveys the Doge's power as a ruler yet carefully draws him out on a human scale as well.
posted by vacapinta at 5:58 AM on February 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Romaine Brooks' self-portrait. A close second would be her La France Croisée.
posted by rtha at 6:10 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like the famous Norman Rockwell self-portrait. Of course, Rockwell was an illustrator more than an "artiste", but it certainly illustrates how he thought of himself.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:17 AM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Where do you live? If you can get yourself to a museum to see any of Sargent's large portraits, they are just stunning in person. If you happen to be in Southern Cal, there are several at the Huntington.

And if that happens to be the case, The Broad has an amazing exhibit up now, full of modern portraits.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:33 AM on February 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might explore the nominees for the annual BP Portrait Award for examples of contemporary portraiture.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:34 AM on February 14, 2017

This is maybe cheating, but I love Maira Kalman's portraits (some examples here). She seems to focus on the clothes when they matter, the room details when they matter, and gets the facial expression in such a way that you always feel like the subject is present. I also love that she gives details in text around her portraits, which let you focus on what she loved about them. The portraits all work without the text, but for me the whimsy of the text is what draws me in, every time.
posted by Mchelly at 7:04 AM on February 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I KNOW that Thomas Kluge was ridiculed for his portrait of the Danish Royal family, see here, but I ADORED it.

So what if it's a little VC Andrews? It's interesting and evocative as hell. I could spend all day looking at it.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:28 AM on February 14, 2017

The terracotta portrait bust of Lorenzo de Medici, Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de'Benci, Titian's Portrait of a Lady, and Jan van Eyck's possible self-portrait Man in Red Turban are among my favorites. I suppose what I like most is some conveyance of personality and a sense of something going on behind the eyes of the person being depicted. The purely technical skill of the artist is important, and I love a beautifully rendered dress or set of jewels or great hair, but if the portrait doesn't give me a feeling about the person, I won't look as long.

(For what it's worth, I go visit the Medici bust whenever I can, because it's like going back to see an old friend.)
posted by PussKillian at 7:53 AM on February 14, 2017

Velazquez's Juan de Pareja

van Dyck's Portrait of George Gage

Idiosyncratic favorite, Rubens's Thomas, Earl of Arundel
posted by praemunire at 7:56 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rembrandt’s many self-portraits are endlessly fascinating, but maybe especially the late ones, like this one.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 8:09 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

On the more modern front, Max Beckmann's The Old Actress (believed to be modeled on a friend) and Quappi with White Fur
posted by praemunire at 8:12 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Which reminds me of another favorite, Rembrandt's Hendrickje Stoffels.
posted by praemunire at 8:38 AM on February 14, 2017

My favourite is another Sergent - Lady Agnew of Lochnaw.
posted by rd45 at 8:53 AM on February 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was going to say Velazquez's Juan de Pareja as well. The portrait stands alone wonderfully, but becomes 1000% more interesting when you know that Pareja was an enslaved person inherited by and later freed by Velazquez, as well as a great painter in his own right.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:05 AM on February 14, 2017

A particular favorite: Chris Levine's 2004 portrait of Queen Elizabeth.

From The Guardian:
“I wanted the Queen to feel peaceful,” wrote Levine of the photo in the Guardian, “so I asked her to rest between shots; this was a moment of stillness that just happened.... The challenge was to make an image that was modern, and to convey the Queen's relationship with the new millennium. It didn't have to be an oil painting or a conventional photograph. Why not have her eyes shut? We all close our eyes: this picture takes us into the Queen's mind, her inner realm."
posted by Short Attention Sp at 9:10 AM on February 14, 2017

Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (so sorry I cannot link; I'm on my phone). My eyes teared up when I saw it in person at The Frick Collection in NYC several years ago.
posted by Aha moment at 9:36 AM on February 14, 2017

Moroni's work exemplifies what I enjoy in a good portrait: perfect details, realistic but not entirely photorealistic, focused, with personal touches (the count who poses with his beloved lapdog, for example). His people are all complete people, and they are full of thoughts and secrets and opinions about you, even five hundred years later. His tailor has your measure and his senator has seen it all before.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:25 AM on February 14, 2017

Portrait of a young Englishman by Titian. Not the best resolution here, but the eyes are piercing.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:04 AM on February 14, 2017

Henry D. Thoreau, by Antonio Frasconi.

Frasconi was an Uruguayan - American artist. He’s best know for his woodcuts, which are raw and bold, and often emphasize the natural grain and pattern of the wood, rather than hid it.

As he told the NYT: “Sometimes the wood gives you a break and matches your conception of the way it is grained. But often you must surrender to the grain, find the movement of the scene, the mood of the work, in the way the grain runs.”

Working both with nature and against it, Frasconi was perfectly suited to create the plates for for the limited edition book, A Vision of Thoreau. With his 1849 essay: Civil Disobedience. In it, he presents a number of portraits of Thoreau (1, 2, 3, 4) where he variously incorporates natural patterns and motifs. But to my mind the most successful is the one in my first link, with the wood grain pattern nearly obliterating Thoreau’s face. This is “Man and Nature” in graphic form, the quintessential Thoreau portrait.
posted by Kabanos at 12:18 PM on February 14, 2017

Or, to put it more generally, I love it when the the technique or content of a portrait reflects some 'true' aspect of the nature of the subject, rather than just being a realistic visual likeness.
posted by Kabanos at 12:26 PM on February 14, 2017

I like Van Gogh's The Postman (Joseph-Étienne Roulin). Van Gogh did several portraits of Roulin and his family; this quote from the wiki page may be of interest to you:

Van Gogh, known for his landscapes, seemed to find painting portraits his greatest ambition.[2] He said of portrait studies, "the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else."[3] Van Gogh wrote further of the meaning he wished to evoke: "in a picture I want to say something comforting as music is comforting. I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to communicate by the actual radiance and vibration of our colouring."
posted by a.steele at 12:30 PM on February 14, 2017

Apart from portraits of famous people, I've always liked The Bubble Boy (1884 - Paul Peel).

No idea who he is. But it gives a clear sense of the boy, or at least the feeling of him in that moment. You've got beautiful contrasts of warm sun and shade, the repetitive roundness of his hat, brim, cheeks, chin, nose, and bubbles. And eyes closed in a moment of pleasure. An imaginary story easily emerges.

praemunire's links above are successful for the very same reason, that I can imagine an intimate knowledge of the subjects, without actually knowing who they are.
posted by Kabanos at 12:43 PM on February 14, 2017

Sally Mann's pics blow me away. Will always one of my favorites.

Also, Nan Goldin (nsfw photos in there, but very cool portraits, you feel like youre meeting them face to face), John Deakin (also photographer), Dorothea Lange and a must i feel, are Frida Kahlos self portraits. They are so zingy and honest and i never get tired of them.
posted by speakeasy at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2017

Diego Velazquez's Pope Innocent X has to be on any list.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:44 PM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Robert de Montesquiou by Boldini.

Lucien Simon's autoportrait.

Unfamiliar Reflection by Ken Currie. You can't see it in the image, but I've seen the painting in person, and the red stains on the side of the painting in the image matches the ones on the side of the real canvas.
posted by snakeling at 2:18 PM on February 14, 2017

I really like a number of Sargent's portraits, which are referenced above. Painters I don't think have been mentioned yet are Goya and Ingres:

Goya: Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate I love the clear gaze of the sitter in this painting.

Ingres: Portrait of Monsieur Bertin
Madame Moitessier
Ingres has an almost enamel-like finish that beautifully details fabrics and jewellery, yet his faces present character in depth.

An early Renaissance double portrait that is very striking:
The Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca.
posted by Azara at 3:56 PM on February 14, 2017

Watch this youtube video. Skip to about 2:40 to avoid all the introductory blah blah. It's a tutorial, about 15 minutes long, but I think it may be useful to you and the portrait at the end is a favorite. It's very well done and you get to watch the portrait take shape too.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:05 PM on February 14, 2017

I really enjoy Dance-Holland's portrait of Captain James Cook. I don't think it is a particular masterpiece of portraiture, but I like it a lot and I think it's mainly because of the uniform and the casual, random unbuttoning.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:19 PM on February 14, 2017

Seconding the Valazquez Pope Innocent X. And if you want to level up with Velazquez, take a long, long look at Las Meninas.

Here is a nice progression of self-portraits by Picasso.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:21 PM on February 14, 2017

This Rembrandt self portrait at the Frick in New York. My favourite painting in a city full of wonderful paintings. The luminosity and depth is astounding, and I think I could look at it all day.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:02 PM on February 14, 2017

I've got to mention Ilya Repin. So many to choose from! But here a few of my favorites:
Composer Modest Mussorgsky
Baroness Varvara Ivanovna Ikskul von Hildenbandt
Author Vsevolod Garshin
A Shy Pesant
posted by Kabanos at 2:57 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

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