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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Best Portraits by Famous Artists

Best Portraits by Famous Artists

Best Portrait Paintings in Museums

A Portrait painting is an artistic representation intended to depict a human subject that displays the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. Historically, portrait paintings have primarily memorialised the rich and powerful.

Over time, however, it became more common for middle-class patrons to commission portraits of their families and colleagues. Portraits are often vital state and family records, as well as remembrances.

Today, portrait paintings are still commissioned by governments, corporations, groups, clubs, and individuals. In addition to painting, portraits can also be made in other media such as prints, photography, video and digital media.

A well-executed portrait is expected to show the inner essence of the subject, not just a literal likeness.

“Art aims to present not the outward appearance of things,
but their inner significance;
for this, not the external manner and detail,
constitutes true reality.”
– Aristotle

Artists may strive for photographic realism or an impressionistic similarity in depicting their subject. Portrait painting can depict the subject “full-length”, “half-length”, “head and shoulders” or just the head. The subject’s head may turn from “full face” profile to a full range of “partial views”.

Occasionally, artists have created composites with views from multiple directions. There are even a few portraits where the front of the subject is not visible at all but integrates with the setting to convey the artist’s interpretation

Famous Portrait Paintings

Vincent van Gogh Portrait

Sculptured Portraits

Explore Art

Quotes about Portraits

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

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“A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.”
– John Singer Sargent

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“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”
– Frida Kahlo

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“It takes a long time for a man to look like his portrait.”
– James Whistler

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“A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“There are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the smirk.”
– Charles Dickens

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“I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the wren; and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass, that the guest leaves.”
– Emily Dickinson

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“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone because I am the person I know best.”
– Frida Kahlo

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In art, there is no need for colour; I see only light and shade. Give me a crayon, and I will paint your portrait.”
– Francisco Goya

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“And painted portraits have a life of their own that comes from deep in the soul of the painter and where the machine can’t go.”
– Vincent Van Gogh

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“Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”
– John Singer Sargent

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“A portrait, to be a work of art, neither must nor may resemble the sitter… one must paint its atmosphere.”
– Umberto Boccioni

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“The dog is the perfect portrait subject. He doesn’t pose. He isn’t aware of the camera.”

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“The reason some portraits don’t look true to life is that some people make no effort to resemble their pictures.”
– Salvador Dalí

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“I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them. Not having a look of the sitter, being them.”
– Lucian Freud

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“Self-portraiture is something one should never get involved in since it is wrong to lie even though one’s endeavours to tell the truth.”
– Ingmar Bergman

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“When having my portrait painted, I don’t want justice; I want mercy.”
– Billy Hughes

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“I do not paint a portrait to look like the subject,
rather does the person grow to look like his portrait.”

– Salvador Dali

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Photo Credit: 1) Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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