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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

The Most Iconic Portrait Artists of All Time

A common factor in every good portrait is the fact that it can remind spectators how mankind is so diverse, yet so alike at the same time. Irrespective of the time of their creation, or the clothes, medium, or expressions, some portraits have become truly timeless because of how the artist portrayed their subjects. More than just a human face, portrait artwork is the skill of the artist to capture the essence of their subject through intricate details that represent the subjects as what they truly are. To delve deeper into portrait art, we have covered a brief of the top 5 most iconic portrait masters of all time.



What is Portrait Artwork?

In simplest words, any depiction of an individual or group with the head and shoulders of the subject shown is portrait art. In some cases, it can be a full-body depiction of the subject as well. Similarly, when an artist draws their own portrait, it is called a self-portrait. There are also animal portrait artworks, where artists capture the profiles of different animals in their work. 

4 Portrait Masters of All Time

The oldest portrait artworks were discovered in Egypt from the 1st-3rd century AD, but as unfortunate as it was, the identity of the artists is not known. However, we still have many other portrait masters who left their imprint on the world with their work and we know their identities quite well. Let’s take a look at them. 



1. Leonardo Da Vinci

Anytime portrait art is mentioned, the Mona Lisa is probably one of the first artworks that comes to mind. It is a perfect example of the sfumato technique that is used to soften the edges and Vinci’s skills in depicting the enigmatic smile of the subject.  However, we are happy to inform you that it wasn’t his only work that is considered a masterpiece. 

If you look at his other portraits like Lady with an Ermine, the portrait of Ginevra de Benci, and his self-portrait, you’ll know they are all reflective of his techniques and how he constantly challenged traditional artistic methods. 

This virtuoso was not only an artist but an esteemed polymath, who dissected corpses to learn about human anatomy and also very well incorporated these observations in his craft. The notes that he maintained are proof of his extensive knowledge. While many of his works are incomplete, his skills are non-debatable even today.



2. John Singer Sargent

It won’t be an exaggeration to call Sargent the most successful portrait artist of his era during the 19th and 20th centuries.  He created over 900 oil paintings and 2000 watercolor artworks throughout his artistic career. During the Edwardian era, the elite class from across the oceans visited his studio to get immortalized on his canvas. With his brush skills, he never failed to capture the details in the expressions of his subjects, thus making him a celebrated fashion portraitist of his time. 

He considered his portrait of Madame Gautreau, also known as Madame X, to be the pinnacle of his skills, which also caused quite a scandal back then for the salacious depiction. His other remarkable portraits include that of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, Head of a Capri Girl, El Jaleo, and Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, which are considered some of his best works. His popularity can be attributed to the fact that his subjects were ready to pay him anywhere between 1000 guineas to $5,000 for the portraits, whereas other artists charged a mere $400.



3. Rembrandt van Rijn

Born to a miller in a family of modest means, this virtuoso from the Baroque Era has gone down in the history of art as one of the greatest storytellers. He is known for his impeccable skills in using light and shadows to evoke emotional depths in his work. Sargent rendered the actual mood and features of his subjects on the canvas. His realist portraits often led to criticism, thus accusing him of favoring ugliness. 

The artist started his artistic career with portraits and gave us quite a few masterpieces to remember him by. Some of his remarkable portrait artworks include his self-portrait with two circles, the portrait of Herman Doomer, the portrait of the Polish Rider, The Old Man With a Gold Chain, and many others. When it comes to depicting even the minutest details and still being able to portray the subject without bias, Rembrandt’s works shall always top the list.



4. Frida Kahlo

This exemplary artist created most of her work in the later parts of her life, with deteriorating health, but unwavering spirit. Known for her series of self-portraits, she managed to stir emotions among art enthusiasts, even after her passing away. The perfect archetype of how life and art cannot be separated, Kahlo’s work gave rise to ‘Fridamania’ in the 21st Century. 

If you closely study her life and works simultaneously, you will realize her self-portraits were never just about her superficial self; they were a symbol of her resilience, trauma, and her battle against her own health issues, yet she never depicted herself as a victim seeking pity and somehow still managed to reflect her pain and suffering. Some of her most noticeable works are, The Two Fridas and her Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. 

The Impact of Portrait Artworks

The art of portraiture can offer a sneak peek into the soul of the subject, but it is always the artist who decides what and how much to reveal. Portrait artworks have been around us for thousands of years, but it isn’t every day that we come across an artist who can leave us astonished by their artwork. Apart from the four icons mentioned above, there are several more maestros who have managed to leave us stunned with their work; Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Johannes Vermeer, and Elizabeth Burn are some of the other names that we will always remember when discussing the  most iconic portrait maestros of all time.


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