Friday, 22 July 2011

Paint a portrait, lose a friend?

John Singer Sargent, who knew a thing or two about portraits, was reputed to have said "Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend". You would probably need to be a portait painter to understand that, in all likelihood, he wasn't being flippant.

Most people have an opinion on how they appear to others, and most of us would like to be presented in the best possible way in a portrait, whether that be a painting or a photograph. However, for some sitters, how they appear in a portrait is important for reasons other than personal pride or vanity.

Elizabeth I well understood that how she was portrayed and the use of symbolism could convey essential messages about her reign and the nature of kingship. (I haven't yet worked out how I can show images of paintings without breaching copyright or the rules of the internet, so if you want to see portraits of Elizabeth and other kings and queens, take a look at this fabulous site - Oliver Cromwell, on the other hand, wanted to show himself as being a man of the people and is reputed to have told Sir Peter Lely to paint him "warts and all".

So, how does the portrait painter work out whether she is dealing with a Cromwellian sort of client, or a Hello Magazine's photoshop-me-silly sort of client? And how does she deal with a client who has less than realistic expectations of what he or she will look like in the portrait?

To be honest, I don't yet know the answers to these questions. I have been advised to underplay wrinkles, which I suppose makes sense, but which seems a great shame. What can be nicer than laughter lines? A while ago, I painted a lovely lady of a certain age who liked her portrait but asked me to take out some of the wrinkles. When she saw the result, she asked me to put them back in again, as we were in agreement that it no longer looked like her.

This posting has been in draft form for several days but, following the death of Lucian Freud yesterday, I have been trawling the web looking for images of his work and I came across this article written by Neil Tweedie in The Telegraph in 2008, which tells it much better than I could - . Do take a look at what Jonathan Yeo tells potential clients who asks him to paint them looking slimmer!!

Going back to portraits and friends, this is a pastel portrait of Julie, a very close friend of mine. Of course, I didn't have to do anything at all to flatter her, as she is quite lovely as she is!


  1. SHe is pretty and you did a lovely painting of her!

  2. Thank you, Rolina. I hope she sees your comment :)