The art of portraiture
Present since Antiquity, the portrait flourished in Flanders and Italy from 1425. Sometimes privileging the physical resemblance sometimes the psychology of the model, it crosses – face, three quarters, or profile – the history of Western painting.
Essential in the 15th century, the portrait gains in intensity with regard to the realism of the flesh, attitudes and gestures, thanks to the progress of oil technique. The sociology of models is diversifying, while psychology is explored.
The art of portraiture is codified under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci and Titian: the busts stand up, the hands cross and the faces are inserted between drapery and column – a story of majesty. Two trends coexist in 16th century Europe: an Italianate current and another Nordic, more realistic. the influence of Leonardo da Vinci and Titian: the busts stand up, the hands cross and the faces are inserted between drapery and column – a story of majesty. Two trends coexist in 16th century Europe: an Italianate current and another Nordic, more realistic. Thus in Rome, the sulfurous Borgias use the portrait to the glory of their coat of arms and each of them is a conquest; Rubens and Van Dyck monumentalize it by giving the royal portrait an international dimension; in a sumptuous genre, the portraits of Velázquez are a hymn to the Crown of Spain; as for Madame Vigée Le Brun, she becomes Marie-Antoinette’s official portrait painter, offering portraits as precious as her sovereign. In the 18th century, each portrait painter in the courts of Europe celebrated the pomp and opulence of his models with full-length portraits with refined decorations.
Later, if the advent of photography in the 19th century caused a gender crisis, all artists adapt according to their aesthetic – open air – synthetism – divisionism. Among them, Ingres remains the portrait painter of the century, ideally recreating the bourgeoisie of his time. It will be the same for Degas, who modernizes the genre through the acuity of his sense of observation and his ability to grasp the model in his most familiar environment.
19th century French school
Even though the 19th century was dominated by Romanticism, emotion and individuality, painters adopted a painstakingly detailed painting that was inspired by rationalism and the order of Neoclassicism. Realism is attached to the contemporary world and seeks to translate a pure and simple reality of rural but also urban life. Through the use of the portrait, the artists explore the interior reality, abandon the exterior.
Portrait of Louis Patenotre
“The essence of Realism is the negation of the ideal… The expression of beauty is directly related to the power of the artist’s conception.”
– Gustave COURBET.
Portrayed from the front, bust framed, Louis Patrenotre looks the viewer in the eye, according to a mode of representation widespread in Holbein the Younger; this classic frontal approach – archetypal portraiture in England – also recalls the Florentine model, which shows the bust in a linear style.
The effect produced by the modeling of the facial features – which the light brings out vividly from an obscure atmosphere – contrasts particularly with the tenebrism of the canvas. Like the Dutch painters, the artist insists on the bourgeois value of his model by a dark monochrome arrangement.
The character’s social position and self-confidence are expressed with great efficiency, in the simplicity of the portrait layout. The sustained gaze expresses an almost monastic temperament which seems to establish a “solemn” relationship with the viewer.
With a virtuoso hand, the painter probes his subject to such an extent that his painting gives him individuality. Il pushes the veracity of the rendering like a photograph. Using a mixed neutral background, inspired by NEoclassical, the artist infuses a masterful attitude to his character, whose supple and natural expression gives him a certain attachment, mysteriously fascinating.
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