In recent decades, almost exclusively I have been painting portraits on commission. Clients pay for the assignment, and that creates obligations for me, the artist. Principally, the portrait should have a perfect likeness. That’s fundamental, and rightly so. In addition, the painting must meet a number of criteria that has to do with the artist´s view. Firstly, of course one would depict the person in an flattering way. I once read somewhere : A portrait is not just painting a picture, it is the celebration of a person. That is what I am looking for. Regardless, the painting should be of good colour balance, chiaroscuro and composition. But all this, usually has nothing to do with the extent to which a portrait shows a detailed view. Sometimes I can also linger too much on details and I often think I should stop painting earlier. Seeing the portrait of this young lady again (that I made years ago) I remember I wondered if I should elaborate more some details. Now that I see it again, I still do not know. I like the overall unsharpness.
Portrait of a young lady. Should I elaborate more ?
I painted this young lady with a broad smile. For me a smiling portrait is not necessarily annoying.
May a portrait show a smile? The debate on this issue almost always gets bogged down in heated discussions with presumptuous, compelling arguments. Some pretend that a smile will eventually get bored and a timeless expression is preferred. Toothy smiles often appear static and smiles distort facial features, e. g. making the eyes smaller. Almost never you hear this, not insignificant, argument: Showing a smile betrays the use of photography. And many portraitists do not like to admit this. It may be clear, I find that it’s all nonsense. First, there is no argument against the use of photography and secondly a smiling portrait is not necessarily annoying. OK, one can have a clear preference that is fine. But let me say this again: Don´t make it a doctrine. The challenge is to make a good portrait, full of character. A painted portrait shall, reliably, report of the sitter and sometimes a smile is a part of the emotion displayed.
I notice that many beginning artists have trouble painting teeth properly. A word of advice: Never make individual teeth, paint a curved surface that turns away into the corners of the mouth.
Yesterday we returned from our family trip to Berlin. We had a fantastic week and of course we have seen a lot. Often we did things together but also sometimes we went our separate ways. My wife and I went to the art museums, our daughter and her husband visited the more history-oriented museums. In the evening we discussed what everyone had seen that day, of course whilst enjoying a good glass of German beer.
If I had to mention two highlights that I’ve seen: a painting by Rembrandt in the Gemälde Galerie and Manet in the Alte National Galerie.
The painting of Rembrandt : The Mennonite preacher was complete unknown to me and I was surprised by it´s narrative quality. It shows the minister Anslo explaining a passage of the Bible to his wife. The painting is dominated by the man´s left hand almost in the center of the composition. The facial expression of the preacher shows an inquisitive – certainty. The woman thinks about his words and her gaze is pensive and questioning at the same time. I was captivated by this intense dynamic. I could not get enough of it and came back the next day to see it once more.
The Mennonite Preacher Anslo and his Wife,1641, Rembrandt van Rijn
The other painting that I would like to mention is Manet’s In the Conservatory. This I had never seen in reality and I looked forward seeing it for days. Also it is about an interaction between two people. Again it is the man who speaks and the woman who ponders, but about other things than God ‘s word I suppose. What I first noticed this time is the cropping that almost cuts the head of the man. It gives the composition the character of what we now call a snapshot. This in contrast to the monumental character of Rembrandt’s painting. Note the crosshatching brushstrokes on the womans´s mantle.
In the Conservatory, 1878 – 1879, Edouard Manet
These are just two examples, but there was infinitely more to see and we would actually have to go back again. Interesting website of Museums, Palaces, and Memorials in Berlin.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Dare to use paint!
In this portrait I used a lot of paint in the boy´s face and to obtain a nice contrast, little paint in the background.
Many novice painters are stingy with paint. OK, paint is expensive, but I think the fear of getting stuck in a general muddle of paint is the biggest malefactor. Yet the power of oil paint is in bold, pure brushstrokes, and as little as possible mixed colours.
So my motto is: be generous with paint!