The art of portrait

The art of portrait painting in oil colours

This informative book on portrait painting has been preserved for generations and fully deserves to to be available to all portrait artists online. While the art of portraiture has moved on, much of what was written is still valid and relevant to the modern day portrait painter.

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It is only after years of study and practice that the Portrait Painter can hope to show upon the canvas the highest qualities of his art. All the mechanical niceties of execution may often be found, but the intellectual faculty of vivifying the work be conspicuous by its absence.

In aiming at the mere physical resemblance, the imitation of the features, complexion, and personal characteristics of the sitter must first engage the artist’s attention. To attain success in this he must carefully study the features from various points of view, so as to make himself thoroughly familiar with their entire form, as well as with that particular portion he eventually determines to show upon the canvas.

An examination of the best portraits will show each feature to have been so carefully rendered that the sculptor might

reproduce the entire head in marble with a truthfulness closely approaching the original, the whole being so harmonized that each feature effectively maintains its place without obtruding itself on the eye of the spectator.

The painter must be consistent in working out the sentiment he has proposed to himself ; thus, if he intends to depict suavity of expression, the mouth, eyes, and cheeks must coincide in the same feeling. Inconsistence in this is a fault into which a student may readily fall, but he must be on his guard against it, and must endeavour to remedy it when it occurs. We mention the probability in order to recommend that forethought which will protect the painter against the necessity of making numerous corrections.

Every individual is distinguished by certain peculiarities of person and feature, which may not be felt so impressively by friends .relations as by strangers, who are at once struck by them. In a portrait, these characteristics are recognized by friends as  contributing to fix identity of impersonation. But it may be that the prominent individuality is an imperfection. In this case the painter will present a view of the person and features in which the defect is either imperceptible or modified ; for it should be his great purpose, not only to imitate what he sees, but to bring. forward those points which are confessedly the most advantageous to the representation of the sitter. And if, in comparing the finished work with the personal style of the subject, the impression produced by the former be less pleasing than that produced by the latter, this should be sufficient to convince the painter that he has failed to do justice to his sitter. Although the best spirit of portrait painting prescribes, and the licences of an permit, a representation as favourable as possible to the subject, there is yet a limit to complementary construction which is definable only by the peculiarities of each case. If in cases of personal imperfection a resemblance can be obtained without obtruding the blemish, it is within the rules of legitimate practise to subdue it; but this must be done with great discretion, and with the preservation of a distinct impersonation ; otherwise the painter will inevitably fall into a uniform manner of representation, in which all distinctive character will be lost.

Portraits of persons of eminence and celebrity, however should be represented with the most scrupulous fidelity, because such works are public rather than private property.


In full-length figures much of the resemblance depends on the stature and proportions, for, however accurate the head be painted, if the entire impersonation does not correspond, the likeness will be defective.

The student will also very soon learn that the aspect of a subject is liable to change. It is difficult for a person to maintain any given position long together, and a young painter might be induced to alter his dispositions according to the changes of the sitter ; but in doing so he would find himself unable to represent one of the many positions presented to him. He should, therefore, determine to realize that position in which the sitter was first placed, working it out as circumstances may admit.

The face is variable, both in colour and expression; the features lose their colour, and, in the restraint of sitting, settle into an expression generally altogether different from everything that is desirable in a portrait. It becomes, therefore, expedient to observe the best phase of the countenance at the time of commencing the sitting, as soon afterwards the effect of fatigue is too obvious ; the spirits flag, and, with the vivacity of the features, even the freshness of the complexion departs.


About John Payne

Pet Portraits     Art for sale - oil paintings

I’ve been a professional portrait artist for the last 12 years but have been painting for a lot longer . I started out by painting nothing but seascapes and still do the odd one from time to time , I then moved onto landscapes and wildlife paintings before I finally decided to concentrate on portraits.

I get commissioned to paint a lot of pets , mainly dogs – but I also get to paint a fair amount of portraits of people.

more about John                                                                  John Payne       




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