portraiture: Modern Portraiture

The portrait had been a major source of income to painters since the Renaissance, and many modern European masters became, perforce, adept at the art. The French impressionists, Manet, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Soutine, Klee, Kokoschka, Matisse, and Picasso are all known for their portraits, although for none of them was portraiture the principal subject matter.

Portraits were a relatively unimportant part of movements in painting and sculpture during the later 20th cent. until a revival that began in the 1970s. Artists such as Francis Bacon employed a combination of realism and abstraction in paintings that attempted to convey psychological insights as well as the form of the sitter. Active in this period and beyond were a number artists who create portraits in various figurative styles, painters such as Lucian Freud, Alice Neel, Alex Katz, Philip Pearlstein, Jamie Wyeth, and David Hockney.

In the 1990s a revival of interest in portraiture took place that involved many of the latter artists as well as a variety of new ones. This renewal accompanied a concern with the individuality and physicality of human identity, with multiculturalism, and with the mass media. Among the numerous contemporary artists exploring the portrait genre at the end of the 20th cent. are Chuck Close, with his billboard-size facial close-ups; Aaron Shikler, with his extremely realistic likenesses; and Robert Greene, with his fingertip-size studies.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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