When Ilya Repin accepted the assignment to paint the Russian State Council in 1903, one of the terms of his contract was that he would be allowed to paint a life study of each individual member.
This example gives a good insight to what Repin finds essential in achieving a portrait likeness. He probably had only an hour or two to work on this study. He quickly stated the big flat tones of the coat, table, and paper. He defined the structural planes of the head like a master woodcarver.
The effect almost looks like a blurry photograph. He didn’t paint the small details of eyes, nostrils, and lips, but instead concentrated on the overall structure.
The final work, based on many of these studies, is amazingly naturalistic. These large-scale group portraits can easily become stagy and artificial.
Both images in this post are fairly large files, so if you click on them you’ll get a lot more detail.
Image courtesy Wikipedia, link.