Thursday, December 04, 2008

Portraits--Writers and Suchlike

Moving right along with our Who Should Do Your Portrait inquiry, Dirk (who actually reads my fiction as well as this blog) suggests:
"Holbein. You can’t beat him for portraits. His people look so
intensely themselves. Piero Della Francesca would be acceptable too.

Two I don’t want are Watteau and Goya. I like Watteau, but all his people simper, and I love and admire Goya, but most of Goya’s people look crazed."

Hans Holbein the Younger, Boniface Amerbach, 1519

Piero della Francesca, Sigismondo Malatesta, 1451

Dirk's friend Larry (we have not met but I think we have both heard various stories about one another over the years) says:
"Absolutely Holbein. His Thomas More (at the Frick) is the finest portrait I believe I have ever seen, apart from the Rembrandt self-portraits, a class of their own. There also is an extraordinary painting at the Met of a young man by an Italian Renaissance artist, and I can't remember which one. It could be Piero della Francesca. On the other hand, the question is about my own portrait, and in that case I might prefer the painterly depth of the great Rembrandts. Whistler would be acceptable, too."

Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Thomas More, 1527

James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Carlyle, 1872-3

Larry continues:
"At the other end of the stylistic spectrum is the extraordinarily talented Paul Helleu, a high-fashion artist of the turn of the century and one of Proust's models for the painter Elstir. As a side note, I was one of the actor/models in Eleanor Antin's Angel of Mercy, a performance piece about the life of Florence Nightingale. One aspect of the piece was a sequence of very beautiful photographs, mostly composed after famous paintings of the nineteenth century. I was a friend of the family in these photographs and was seen playing croquet, listening at a window as Florence played the piano, and leaning back to back with a painter named Patricia Patterson (widow of the recently deceased Manny Farber). In that photo, taken in the open, I was wearing a straw hat and painting on a canvas propped against a rowboat. Only much later, when a friend in St. Louis spotted this photograph in an article in Arts magazine, did I learn that the couple in the original painting by John Singer Sargent (at Brooklyn Museum) were Paul Helleu and his wife. When I asked Eleanor why she didn't tell me I was momentarily Paul Helleu, she replied that I would have ruined the shot had I known, and she probably was right. I loved the nineteenth century clothing, though I wouldn't want to wear it every day.

As to painters one would rather avoid, include Goya's idiots and Bosch and Daumier and all the great German Expressionists and Neue Sachlichkeit artists -- Nolde, Kirchner, Marc, Beckmann, Grosz, Dix, etc., etc. Also Ensor, Soutine, Giacometti -- in fact, most of the modern canon."

Paul Helleu, Portrait of Clara Weil

Geoff, who is a friend of both mine and Dirk's, says:

"Francis Bacon, because he'd paint me the way he sees me and not the way I see me. And because the result would very likely be uglier than the original even in other people's eyes. But if Francis isn't available (after all, he died 16 years ago), then maybe Daumier. In fact, I think he already did depict me pretty accurately, early one morning before my first cup of coffee:

But if I have to sit (or stand) for a portrait for hours on end, I think I'd rather subject myself to Artemisia Gentileschi.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Portrait of a Condottiero, 1622

This is me after that first cup of coffee, when I've finally got my hair combed.

Thanks for posing this question. The more I think about it, the surer I am that I'd be happy to have any artists use me as a subject, just to see all the variations possible and as an insight into how each artist treats a common subject differently. The artists I would avoid (or put low down on the list) would include Irving Penn and others likely to create a too-glamorous look. Georg Grosz or Ben Shahn would be good, though -- rough and bristly."

And, of course, more to come!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

All Goya's subjects look crazed? Well, that suits Robert to a tee. Especially if it's early in the morning. ;)

December 05, 2008 5:05 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Yeah, I'm waiting for Robert to send in his Goya-esque choices. He looks so perfect for Goya's self portraits. And then there's his Manet option. But I shouldn't give it all away in advance.

December 05, 2008 5:48 PM  

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