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.

Back to The Art of Portrait Painting



The arms and hands in the portraits of ladies are painted with a few only of the tints of the palette employed in colouring the features. For this part of the work the general colour of the complexion will be the base of that of the arms and hands. We make this observation (which might seem unnecessary) because in colour, not less than in drawing, there are expression and degrees of refinement. The hands are one of the most difficult exercises for the skill of the painter ; there is often a sketchy and slovenly manner of disposing of them, but we never find anything but the most elaborate accuracy in the treatment of this part of their works in the compositions of those masters of the art of portrait painting, that might be instanced as worthy of imitation.

It is frequently considered unnecessary to carry the hands and arms beyond the simplest individuality; but here, more than in the features themselves, there is opportunity of qualifying the work with somewhat of the form of abstract beauty. Hands and arms introduced into a portrait should only be seen when looked for. If they force themselves on the eye, they are out of place in the composition-they occupy some position in the picture in which they have been placed only for the sake of being painted. The hand, when skilfully disposed, is a powerful auxiliary in expression ; but then the action must be easy and probable, otherwise affectation or awkwardness must be the result.

There are signally vulgar mannerisms, as well in painting hands as other parts of a portrait. We sometimes see the hand reduced below even the minimum of proportion ; again, we may see fingers tapered down to a painful degree of tenuity.

The beauties of proportion and the graceful play of line, especially in the hands of ladies, constitute an essential subject of study. No painter since his time has ever painted hands like Vandyck, and none that have succeeded him have ever painted hands with that distinctive class-refinement that Lawrence has shown. The productions of both in this way are eminently beautiful, though very different; those of the former are a conquest in the study of Nature, those of the latter a triumph in the study of Art.

There is a considerable difference between the carriage of the right and left hands respectively : the left, for instance, bends at the wrist in a manner much more graceful than the right; but nevertheless, when opportunity occurs, it must not be forgotten that to the right hand may be conceded, in painting, this grace which it does not possess in nature.

Each finger has a distinct character, and the fingers of the right hand are generally larger than those of the left; but this is not a subject of consideration in a portrait. A knowledge of the peculiar form of each, and of the curvature of the lines in a good model, will teach the student to avoid all straight lines and sharp angles in the disposition and drawing of hands.

On a three-quarter sized canvas, if a hand be introduced, the best place for it-indeed, almost the only one-seems to be under the face, so as to repeat the light and colour.


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       




Comments are closed.