What is Portrait Art?

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

– Oscar Wilde

What is Portrait Art?

Defined as an artistic representation of a person, in which the face is the main theme, portrait art is one of the most prominent art genres throughout history and the second most significant art genre in academic art. Rather than simply sketching or painting a realistic depiction of the models’ features, the artist aims to portray qualities such as power, importance, wealth, and taste of the model. More often than not, the model will be looking directly at the artist  Creating portrait art provides knowledge on and tests the artist understanding of light and form, proportions and basic anatomy of the skull and facial features, and composition.

Although portrait art has been around for a very long time, it was not until the post-impressionist era that artists began to deconstruct ideas about the nature of portrait art. Post-impressionists broke through traditional portrait perception, which focused on the lifelike depiction of the model and instead explored new possibilities of representation and expression in portrait art. Focusing on capturing the personality and expressing the individual identity of the model/ subject.

Famous portrait painters and artworks

Although Edgar Degas was a master of everyday life art genre, during his early career, he also composed various portrait artworks. His portrait pieces are renown for their depiction of human isolation and psychological complexity. This can be seen in ‘The Bellelli Family’, where he made use of sober colours, imposing dimensions, the structured games of open perspectives (doors and mirrors), to convey an oppressed atmosphere. The physical distance between Laura and her husband Baron Genarro Bellelli, as well as the difference in their posture, Degas managed to capture the subtle details and express the dysfunction within the Bellelli family.

Famous for painting the ‘Mona Lisa’, Leonardo da Vinci was one of the leading artists of the High Renaissance. His study of the human body and its movement allowed him to capture precise expressions that are layered with subtle undertones, thus creating forms that capture the attention of viewers and invites them into the intimate world of his subject. In one of the most famous portrait painting in the world ‘Mona Lisa’, da Vinci made use of his knowledge in colors to create a depth to the composition which provided a surreal atmosphere to the artwork. Leonardo also depicted his subject all the way where we as the audience are able to see the subject as a whole, which was an innovative approach in portrait art as most portrait artworks at that time only showed the audience a portion of the subject – usually the head and upper torso.

Learn portrait drawing and painting at Visual Arts Centre

At Visual Arts Centre, our art courses adopt an academy approach to art teaching and learning. Be it drawing and sketching or oil painting, after you have built your foundations, you are able to challenge yourself with portrait artworks. Portrait artwork provides you with knowledge on light and form, proportions and basic anatomy of the skull and facial features, and composition. In our drawing and sketching class, you can either bring or will be provided with portrait images and plaster casts where you will learn to the basic techniques on drawing and sketching of facial anatomy and the proportional relationships between facial features. In our oil painting session, you will explore color theory, learn brushwork and techniques to depict a realistic and natural image of the subject. and to express your perception towards the subject. In our watercolor painting and acrylic painting class, composing portrait art challenges and improves your foundational techniques on brushwork, use of color, tone, and highlight.

We also have a monthly Portrait Drawing Workshop with Artist Guidance. In this workshop, you will be working with a model. This challenges your observational skill and attentiveness. Through life observation of the model, you will have to capture the various motions, tones, shades, shadows, skin textures and gestures of the model with your own interpretation in this life drawing jam session. You will be introduced to proportion and basic anatomy of the skull and facial features, refined methods of observation and sketching, as well as receive guidance from a professional artist. This workshop will be a great experience to test your ability to capture the subject and to practice observational and quick sketching skills.

Here are some portrait artwork done by our students:

Explore landscape painting and sketching with us! Check out our art courses here.

Join our monthly Portrait Drawing Workshop with Artist Guidance here.

Artworks