Monday, October 16, 2017

My Top Ten Portraits

I'd bet the farm that you don't know that art history was one of my favorite classes in college. See? I'm beginning to understand that one of the bonuses of compiling and posting these top ten lists is the fact that you're getting to know me a bit better.

Yes, I loved art history, but that didn't come as a complete shock. It was an elective class; therefore, studying it was my choice. My mother, who was raising me on a widow's pension and a variety of part-time jobs (including village librarian), spent some of her hard-earned cash to subscribe to five or six series published by Time-Life Books when I was a tween. Two of my favorite series were about museums of the world and about art. They were filled with full-page, luscious color photographs, and I would sit and slowly turn the pages, trying to soak up as much beauty as possible. So that art history class was a natural for me.

What wasn't natural was the sort of test the professor devised. Those exams were brutal. I would always finish among the very first in every other class I took, but in this class, we all stayed after the bell, scrambling to finish and still be able to make it to our next classes in time. A major part of her exams were slides of paintings we'd never seen before. We had to look closely at each one, state which artist we thought had painted it and give three reasons to support our decisions. Brutal! But the things I learned in that class are still with me.

Fortunately, this isn't one of those exams. All you have to do is take a look at some paintings that are among my favorite portraits. There's something about a well-done portrait, don't you think? It should always say more about the subject than the subject realizes. My choices are listed in alphabetical order by the artist's last name, and I've also provided links to each artist in the captions beneath each painting. I hope you enjoy!

"My Daughter Elizabeth" by Frank Benson

"Portrait of Madame Juillardin Red" by Giovanni Boldini

"Santa Fe Sun" by Steve Hanks

"Arthur Atherley, M.P." by Sir Thomas Lawrence

"Lady Helen Vincent" by John Singer Sargent

"A Talking Robe" by Howard Terpning

"Charles I in Three Positions" by Sir Anthony van Dyck

"Girl With a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer 

"Self Portrait in a Straw Hat" by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

"Redhead" by William Whitaker

Now for a few words about some of my choices.

Steve Hanks works with watercolors, and I think his art is amazing. Until I saw his work, I never thought you could get so much detail using watercolors.

Lawrence's "Arthur Atherley, M.P." looks like a rich, spoiled hellraiser, doesn't he?

John Singer Sargent is my favorite portraitist, and I chose one of his charcoal sketches to show how fabulous he is, regardless of medium.

Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring" is probably my favorite portrait of all time. Those eyes!

I first saw a portrait painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun at the Phoenix Art Museum in the 1980s when a huge traveling exhibit of Impressionist paintings was touring the country. That exhibit blew me away and made me momentarily wonder if I could smuggle that water lily painting by Monet out of the building without being caught. I walked into another room in the museum to calm down a bit before going back for another walk-through when I saw this face smiling down at me from the opposite wall. It was one of Vigée Le Brun's portraits, and it outshone everything else in the room. It didn't take me long to find a biography written about her that included color plates of some of her work.

I know that Art isn't everyone's "thing," but I do hope you enjoyed wandering through my little exhibition!

1 comment:

  1. I love the Vermeer, too, Cathy. And I agree that portraits can be absolutely fascinating. When they're done well, you can really see the personality of the subject coming right through. You've included some fabulous examples, too - thanks.


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