According to Wikipedia (Remember, Sheldon!), “a portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer.” Wikipedia
According to painter Maggi Hambling “A portrait is a sort of visual conversation. The subject catches the eye of the viewer and a kind of confrontation occurs.” Hambling’s “Self-Portrait 1977-78” is one of the most popular portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Our friend Beatrice thinks the NPG is wonderful. Unfortunately, I can’t share her enthusiasm. There’s nothing wrong with the NPG per se, I just want to know where the National Landscape Gallery and the National Still Life Gallery are. Why is there an art gallery devoted to just a single genre of art?
The reason I asked my original question is that on Monday (7th May) Radio 3 are having a Portraits Day. For those who are not aware, Radio 3 is a British national classical radio station. I suppose “or other artistic representation of a person” from the Wikipedia definition can cover musical portraits such as Elgar’s Enigma Variations dedicated to “friends pictured within” starting with his wife and ending with a self-portrait.
According to Mark Hudson’s interview with Radio 3’s controller Roger Wright in today’s Daily Telegraph, “if painters have multiple means at their disposal – colour, texture, different kinds of brush marks – to evoke the idea of a person, surely composers can do something similar with energy, speed, density of orchestration, long flowing lines and more jagged, rhythmic phrases.”
Hudson continues “if painted portraits try to capture the sitter in a moment in time, music can convey changing moods and a sense of the composer’s experience of the subject.
“In recent times the painted portrait has moved closer to the musical portrait, as artists from Picasso to Francis Bacon have adopted multiple viewpoints breaking down traditional notions of time and space in works that are as much about the artist’s feelings towards the sitter’s appearance.”
Piccaso’s 1938 Portrait of Dora Maar
Hudson’s report concludes with another quote from Maggi Hambling. “I never think about likeness. That just happens. A portrait, whether a painting, a poem or music, is all about getting the spirit.”