Portraiture is a richly diverse and enigmatic genre of art that has been used for hundreds of years to record an image of our existence that is passed down and enjoyed by future generations. During the Renaissance, the discovery of oil painting allowed artists to develop and refine techniques that revolutionised the painting process.
Photography is an interesting two dimensional medium that records a momentary snap shot of the sitter. A portrait from life, or from a series of sketches, may not produce a photographic likeness. However, a painterly interpretation combined with the painter's observation of a sitter's character, arguably produces a much more interesting record that is proven to last for generations.
Many artists will promote themselves to paint children. However, we have learnt over twenty years that an additional skill is required and our policy of sticking with a small selection of artists who meet our exacting standards for child portraits has paid dividends for our clients.
Traditionally children were painted in oil rather than charcoal. Girls were often portrayed drifting through a romanticised landscape holding a basket, or a hat. Boys were depicted with a reference to a subject that they excelled at, for example The Duke of Argyll by John Opie.
Conversation pieces of large families were also popular. However, post war, family portraits became unaffordable and it wasn't until the mid-eighties, a decade which produced child portraits such as the Benyon sisters by Howard Morgan that the traditional conversation piece came back into fashion.
Head and shoulders drawings of children largely replaced the romanticised oils in the latter half of the last century. Oddly, these child portraits were often relegated to hang in bedrooms in fairly basic frames, almost as though a portrait of a child was less of a luxury and more of a standard requirement.
We have seen a dramatic increase in commissions of Group Portraits, particularly family groups in oil. When the economy wobbles people who have saved in the boom years and are wary of investing in money markets, often invest in art. In our case, clients that traditionally commissioned individual portraits of their children are now wanting paintings of the entire family, including the dog.
Museum curators report that visitors are fascinated by family portraits. They are the ultimate illustrative record of a family at a certain stage in their lives.
For adults who are painted when they were young, family groups are an invaluable record of the family dynamic and how a room or piece of furniture looked in their childhood home. For artists, a group portrait can be the most rewarding genre as they reveal the challenge of composition.