The Portrait Painting Genre: An Overview
Portrait painting refers to a painting genre where depiction of a subject’s visual appearance is the goal. The most popular subject matter for portrait painting is people, but portraits are also painted of pets, and other animals. A painting that shows the artist is known as a self-portrait. Many famous paintings are portraits, though the paintings were not always famous people or painted by famous artists.
Famous artists like Picasso and Van Gogh, produced noteworthy portraits in their day, although portraiture would not have necessarily been the genre they were most noted for. Picasso paintings contain portraits within different styles leading to what many believe was the beginning of his shift to cubism in his painting of Gertrude Stein. Van Gogh paintings like The Starry Night are instantly recognized as his more famous works, but his work included a variety of self-portraits, 37 of them, showing much skill in that genre.
The history of dog portraits is as old as the history of portrait artists themselves. While many artists are commissioned for portrait work (Picasso’s commission from Stein allowed him to travel Europe), many paint portraits because they are inspired. Their affection for someone gives desire to paint that subject. Man’s best friend surely falls into this category for an artist. Imagine though, trying to pose dogs for pet portraits. Perhaps it would be easier to paint from a photograph, and today that is how the job often gets done–for people and their pets. Consider who has time today to sit and be painted.
Still life paintings are popular with those who do not wish for their subject matter sit for a time or pose in a particular manner. Objects of still life can give an artist much more freedom in moving things around and make the piece convey exactly what they wish to say. They can wait until lighting is perfect and the apples or other subject matter will not complain if they are not represented properly. Perhaps this is why Picasso and Van Gogh represented other art forms than simply portraiture.