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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Some knowledge of composition is necessary to set a figure effectively, for the play of linen is dependent on the pose, and the disposition of the limbs must be as carefully considered as the minor parts of a complicated picture. In large pictures a single figure may form only a subservient link, or assist in continuing a line of light, or may serve as a point in breadth of shade or of light; but when a single figure constitutes the picture we look in it for the principles of composition, as far as a single figure can be made to exemplify them. Had we the space we could illustrate fully and simply what is pleasing to the educated eye, in the balance and dispositions of linear composition, by reference to the remnants of classic art; but, in the first place, we have not space in this little treatise, which is principally devoted to portraiture, to do justice to such a subject; and, again, it is probable that even casts of the classic models may not be readily accessible to many persons into whose hands this manual may fall.

A model set for drawing and painting from should be posed in such a manner as, by sentiment or action, to afford narrative. If we look at an Egyptian statue, it may have the hands hanging by the side, and its feet may be placed close together, both of which arrangements are examples of bad composition. The figure may be perfectly erect, and looking straight before it, without any definite purpose ; it wants, therefore, expression and relief. If, on the contrary, we look at a Greek statue-say, the Fighting Gladiator-the pose at once declares an object: every muscle of the figure is braced for the encounter, and the action and firmness of the lower limbs, and the disposition of the arms, contribute to the narrative. Hence, in all figures that are well set, if the expression be that of repose, the body will be in relief-that is, in some easy and natural position-and the limbs will be so disposed as to afford a variety of line. But if the action be violent, there will be a display of anatomy, and still the movement and disposition of the limbs will be various.

It is only in the masculine figure that violent action is shown ; the poses of the feminine figure are generally quiescent, as the subject is frequently seated or otherwise supported, and disposed rather for sentiment than action.

The figure is generally set under a high light, in order that the detail may be sufficiently pronounced. In many schools the drawing and painting are conducted entirely by gaslight; and with respect to this it was remarked by the late B. R. Haydon that if particular brilliancy were desirable, it was more readily obtainable by painting by gas or lamp light than by daylight. The same means employed to assist  the narrative in large pictures are available accessories to a  single figure as, for instance, draperies, or any objects or material which may be consistent with the story.


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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