The experience of walking through the long corridors at the National Portrait Gallery, London, is a relatively spooky one; row upon row of (mostly) sour faced kings, queens and nobles, all long deceased, staring down at me as I hurriedly make my way towards the exit! I may have a vivid imagination, but portraiture does have that strange power to immortalise a person for as long as the work of art survives. Thus it has a haunting quality, sometimes melancholic, often sweet or humorous, and sometimes hugely intriguing. The portrait above is Goya’s Dona Isabel de Porcel, c.1805 and is one of my favourites. Aside from being strikingly beautiful, with those fiery eyes and powerful body language one wouldn’t dare argue with her, she is a true prima donna. We can only imagine that Goya has managed to capture some essence of her character in this great portrait.
This painting is entitled Three Girls (1935) by the half Hungarian, half Indian artist Amrita Sher Gil (1913-1941). This impressive and simple modernist composition depicts three young Indian women dressed identically but in varied colours. The shadows striking the back wall seem to echo the vulnerability or emptiness felt by these girls who are being portrayed on the delicate thresh hold of marriage. Having grown up in Hungary, Sher Gil may have felt their predicament strongly or may have even exaggerated their sense of helplessness. Either way it is a moving image.
Picasso’s Child with a Dove (1901) sweetly captures the playfulness and innocence of childhood. Perhaps the dove is even symbolic of purity.
Up until now I have neglected to show the work of any artist from the Americas in this blog on world art! So to make up for it, and out of loyalty to my partner, I have three paintings by Brazilian artists in this post. This first image is by Candido Portinari (1903-1962) and is called Labrador de Cafe (1934). Through his paintings Portinari championed the cause of the poor at this challenging time in Brazilian history – slavery only ended there in 1888. In this famous image the labourer with his muscular body and bare feet appears rooted to the earth with the evidence of his handiwork behind him. However, he is staring into the distance, perhaps dreaming of a different sort of life.
This wonderful Matisse odalisque is a festival of colour and pattern.
The American painter John Singer Sargent is famous for his portraiture and rightly so. His paintings always have a lively quality which can sometimes be lacking in this genre of work. This painting of three sisters – The Misses Vickers, 1884, was initially condemned as a bad painting. However, despite the sombre colouring, there is a warmth and familiarity about the work, as if the viewer is being invited into the girls’ living room.
This is a picture of Renoir’s model, Gabrielle, who features in many of his later works. Some might say that Renoir’s works are too sweet, but I am always drawn to their radiant, sun bathed colours and soft technique.
This is a masterpiece! Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man (c.1480-5) depicts a handsome youth and is an unusual composition for its time – perhaps it was originally part of a larger painting.
This painting is by the Brazilian artist Emiliano di Cavalcanti (1897 – 1976) who’s work reminds me of the French artists Leger and Matisse.
A few more great portraits:
Camille Pissarro, Washerwoman, 1880
A self portrait of the Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral (1923).
A portrait of the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (1592-1666) – depicted in profile to distance the viewer from the mighty ruler who is shown bathed in the golden light of his halo. This exquisitely delicate painting portrays Shah Jahan as refined, peaceful and devoted to Allah.
Murillo, Smiling Child at a Window, c. 1675, in the National Gallery, London
Vermeer, A Girl with a Pearl Earring,c.1665
Rembrandt, Self – Portrait, 1659