Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tao of Painting People

Don’t paint a figure; Paint a person.
Don’t paint a head; Paint an individual.
Be accurate, but see beyond the surface.
Beware of pictures that are correct but lifeless.

The face is the window to the soul.
All of humanity’s greatness and frailty can be found in a single pair of eyes.

Portraits by Peder Krøyer (1851-1909). Thanks to Tim Adkins for the close-up.
Krøyer on Wikipedia


David Glenn said...

True, very true. If we don't paint life into the portraits, we may as well be making marble statues.

My Pen Name said...

i love kroyer and the skagan school, if I ever go to denmark, it will be to see their work and Skagan.

phiq said...

I am posting this on my wall! Brilliant.

Is this Gurney wisdom or did someone else say it?

James Gurney said...

Phiq--Yeah, that's me. I jotted down some notes and they sort of sounded like Lao-Tzu. The idea, put more inelegantly, is to try to see the universal by means of the particular.

My Pen Name: Me too! The Skagen painters were sensational and unfortunately hard to find in the USA.

David--that quality of life is such an elusive thing. We all know when we see it in a portrait, but it's so hard to capture.

Johan said...

I was just finishing a book on Anthony Van Dyck, who was one of the first painters who tried to depict more than just the person he portrayed. He too was looking for the soul underneath the flesh.

Imho it is finding this soul which is the hardest part of the process of painting a portrait. The good thing about that is that we will always have an excuse to make another one :D

Mario said...

Beautiful portraits, I didn't know Krøyer. The paintings in his wikipedia page look rather post-impressionist, which I don't particularly like, while these portraits have a "northern europe" look which is by far more appealing to me.

Your golden rules are precious, however the "way to the soul" sometimes takes strange paths. The ice-cold portraits by Bronzino, for example, are all but lifeless and meaningless:


Italian renaissance art in general tends to abstraction (with some notable exceptions as Lorenzo Lotto), but it produced remarkable portraits (sorry if I look patriotic, which I'm not, I'm just trying to match my life-long impressions with your useful advice).

David Still said...

Hey, who said marble statues can't have personality? http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/h2/h2_12.233.jpg

grobles63 said...

Its funny, I had posted something similar to your words, (minus the beautiful pictures you have here). I had a discussion with my wife about what I look for when I draw people- the gist of my response was an of a life beyound the drawing, that somehow the drawing becomes a connection to another human being. I provide the link here http://artinabusyworld.blogspot.com/
if you care to take a look.

Jobot said...

My grandfather was a portrait artist out of Manhattan and Philadelphia, and while I never got much technical art training out of him, I did glean snippets of information just like this.

When he received a portrait commission, he would invite the client to his studio, or visit them in their home or business to take some photographs. Then, he would stay for another hour or more interviewing the client, trying to find out what they like or don't like, how they act and behave, what kind of posture do they have, what sorts of things have they accomplshed (or not accomplished), sketching them all the while. He didn't just want pictures of what they look like; rather he wanted to fully know the person. And only after he felt like he knew his subject, would he commit brush to canvas.

Gary said...

"Beware of pictures that are correct but lifeless."

This is a pet peeve of mine and unfortunately you also do this.

People are not expressionless!!! Their mouth is almost never just a symmetrical horizontal slit. Facial muscles are not all relaxed any of the time!! (Unless you are dead)

I wish they taught painters more about how to capture the dynamic emotion of the face because very very few can do more than just paint a death mask. I know it isn't easy but it is worth it.

The Mona Lisa is unique for this reason. It actually shows some facial muscles being used.

Phew. Glad to get that off my chest!

syldem said...

These portraits contain a real presence that touches my heart.
And when I discovered your book "Imaginative Realism" I was impressed by this same presence in all your characters.

A. L. Ryder said...

I've been to the Skagen museum... it was *wonderful*.

Scorchfield said...

great words and portraits


I replay your post! Thx

aline said...

Looks like these are amazing.
oil painting on canvas