Tuesday, October 25, 2011

6 World's Best Known Portraits

They have appeared everywhere from TV to different prints and objects. They’ve been used as decorations or for commercial purposes. Many have mocked them in paint, drawing or even digital media. In the next article we will discuss a number of well known portraits and their story.
1. Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci
It is said to be the world’s most famous painting. The “Mona Lisa” or “My Lady Lisa” was completed in 1519 by the Italian painter Leonardo Da Vinci and purchased by Francois I. Louis the XIVth later became the owner and after a short possession by Napoleon the first, the painting was given to the Louvre Museum. The woman’s face has always attracted attention with its concealed half smile but it only become popular in the mid 19 century when it was noticed by the symbolist painters and art critiques. One of the critiques was Walter Pater that was so fascinated with the piece and the mister surrounding it that has written a long review about its beauty. In the early 1900 the art work disappeared from the museum and stirred a lot of media attention. It was only found after two years, when one of the formerly employees of the museum tried to sell it to the Italian authorities. In the mid 20th century the painting began touring the United States attracting large number of crowds. This further boosted the paintings notoriety. As Da Vinci himself was a complex and intelligent person, ahead of his time, he continues to puzzle and astonish scholars and simple people alike, and his works span new ideas and theories every year. “Mona Lisa” has been embedded into popular culture for a long time and unfortunately due to its enormous exposure and reproduction is in danger of being perceived as kitsch, instead of being appreciated for its real artistic, historic and cultural value.  

2. Girl With a Pearl Earring - Johannes Vermeer

(said to be) Vermeer
Being anonymous for a long time, Johannes Vermeer has become publicly known in the nineteen century and has since been regarded as one of the Netherlands’ fine realist painters. Living in his modest house in Delft with his spouse, children and mother in-law, Vermeer struggled to capture the every day life of the seventeen century people of middle class in great detail. Among his works we find the intriguing “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, the portrait of a young unidentified woman. In the center of the painting is the pearl, only suggested by its reflection of light, white at the top from the window and grayer at the bottom from the girls white garment. An unusual piece is the head cover, a blue tight band and a loose bright yellow piece of fabric that is hanging at the back. This might have been influenced by a painting of Michael Sweerts where a boy is seen wearing a similar yellow turban and a blue robe against a black background. Vermeer uses the same dark background to emphasize the girl’s face and help achieve a great contrast against the blue and yellow headpiece. The eyes of the sitter look straight at the viewer, while the mouth, slightly open, creates a dynamic feel. This along with the position of the body and the turned head give the impression that this was just a snapshot and not a sitting for a painting.

3.  Portrait of Dr. Gachet - Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh
His paintings are now sold for great amounts and it was one of the most influential artists of the 19th century. What strike us when we stare at a Vincent van Gogh painting are the bold colors and powerful brushstrokes. But that was not how van Gogh began his artistic career. He adopted this style much later in his life, close to his death. He first began painting with darker tones, close to those of earth, before switching to brighter, more powerful colors, at the suggestion of his brother Theo that was an art dealer. Vincent lived in poverty, often loaning money from his brother, and only managed to sell a few works his entire life. Struggling to capture the peasant life and the country side, he found his artistic side being threatened by his mental condition. However, between his insanity episodes he was able to paint and, after being released from the mental hospital and given to the care of doctor Gachet, he produced one of his most memorable works. Being skeptical about him at first and describing him as being as sick as he was, Vincent overcame the first bad impression and painted the doctor’s portrait, admitting in a letter to his sister that the two were becoming good friends. Gachet is depicted with his head supported by his table resting arm, while his face expression renders him absent, as if he is thinking deeply or even being sick. Vincent has accentuated the eyes that are the focal element, and made them full of melancholy and sorrow. The gray blue tones contrast with the warm yellow and orange of the face and table.

4.  Dora Maar Au Chat (Dora Maar with cat) - Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso
Picasso has been among the first artists to bring cubism into their works. Even though he could paint in a realist manner from a young age, he desired to introduce a new style to the world of art that was opposed to the classical works of the old painters. He worked along his friend, Georges Braque, both trying to disassemble the subject and reconstruct it as if seen from different points of view at once. They did it using straight lines forming sharp angles and they have eliminated the sense of depth, making the painting to appear flat instead. The perspective was pushed to a point where the subject became abstract and one could barely see the resemblance to the real life item. In the same style, Picasso has painted one of his mistresses, Dora Maar, a well known surrealist photographer. One of the paintings, called “Dora Maar au Chat”, is now one of his most known works, being bought in 2006 for almost 100 million dollars. As with the other works of Picasso, it had a great impact on the art world, influencing many artists with its style, and leading to the more abstract style. The image of Dora Maar is broken down into multiple pieces viewed from many points, precisely delimited with strong straight black lines. A number of items and features of real life Dora appear in the painting, such as her well known hat and her beautiful hands that are depicted in an exaggerated way with longer nails. The cat represents her femininity and aggression.

5. Adele Bloch-Bauer I - Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt has created a series of controversy and disapproval through his paintings. He went to the Viena School of Arts in 1876 where he impressed his teachers with his talent. He was even able to take commissions and pocket some money before graduating. Together with his brother, he began painting scenes from history and mythology but, when his father and brother died, he steered to a more unique style. He was taken much interest in women and their body shape and started drawing and painting them in erotic scenes. Needless to say his works were not well received, being labeled by some as “pornographic” and lacking any art value. Despite this he continued to produce different scenes with women and symbolic elements. The best known period of his career, thought to be the peak of his ability, is named “the golden period”. This is when Klimt, influenced in his trips to Venice by the Byzantine style, began using golden leaf and complex decorations in his paintings. “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” is painted in this style and has many ornaments and decorations.

6.  Portrait of a Man (aka Portrait of a Man with a Turban) - Jan van Eyck

Jan van Eyck is considered one of the greatest Flemish painters of the 15th century, and is also known as being among the first painters to use oil paints on wooden panels. Although few works have been identified as belonging to him, his skills are clearly visible. One of his famous paintings is “Portrait of a Man”, depicting an older man, possibly the painter himself, wearing a large red headpiece resembling a turban. The visual impact is given by the contrasting black background and the strong red of the chaperon. The man’s face is done with great care with a renaissance technique called “sfumato” that blends the colors and tones without leaving any trace of brush strokes or hard lines. The left eye is closer to the viewer and we can see some fine traces of yellow and red as well as an under paint of blue in his iris. Van Eyck used to paint his name on the frame in a way that it would appear as if carved into wood. The inscription on this portrait reads “Jan Van Eyck Made Me On October 21, 1433”.

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