Category Archives: Part 4 Portraiture and figure paintings

Elizabeth I portrait

For the exercise on Portraits I chose to Annotate a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I that is in the Walker Art Gallery collection so I was interested to watch a programme on TV last night about a recently discovered portrait of her in later life.  The idea behind the American programme called ‘Treasure Detectives’ is to find out if an art work is real or fake.  There had been some coverage in UK newspapers earlier this year Telegraph, Telegraph, Guardian and the Daily Mail.

The painting is owned by the Elizabethan Gardens in Roanoke Island, North Carolina.  During my research on Queen Elizabeth I I discovered that  ‘As she grew older her image was tightly controlled and in 1596 an official proclamation ordered that any ‘unseemly’ portraits were to be destroyed’ so I was sure that this painting was going to be a fake but it appears that it is real, produced by the studio of Gheeraerts in the early-mid 1590s


Reflections on Part Four

Just emailed Assignment four and despite the heatwave we have had recently I am still on target to finish this module by October so I can put in for Assessment in November. UPDATE 18th October had to email to ask for extension for last Assignment not been well on and off for the past month.

I have to admit that I need to finish off some writing on the research point ‘The Female Nude’  but I have made a start just need to do a bit of research.

Overall I’ve found this part quite interesting.  It has made me look at portraits in more depth not only from how much of a likeness the artist has been able to achieve of the sitter but how in previous centuries they were used as propaganda as in the case of the Hans Holbein Whitehall Mural of Henry VIII.

Research point: Figure sculpture

The latest piece of art to occupy the 4th plinth in Trafalgar square has been unveiled.   A bright blue Cockerel by German artist Katharina Fritsch replaces Powerless Structures which has been there for the past 18 months.

I know it is modern and we have to move with the times with public art and I did like Yink Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a bottle but I’m not sure about this piece.

It is surprising what becomes popular with the British public.  Here in Liverpool we have a bright yellow ‘Superlambanana’.  It was originally made by the Japanese artist Taro Chiezo in 1998 as Liverpool’s contribution to the ArtTransPennine Exhibition and was an ironic comment on ‘genetic engineering’, at one time bananas and lamb were once a common cargo being imported and exported down at Liverpool docks.   When it was first displayed in Liverpool it was controversial but over the years has become a popular and valued piece of art in the city.

Project-7-objects-in-different-positions-in-the-frame-close-to-edge(c) Susan Devonport

In 2008 as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture tenure, 125 two metre high versions were commissioned and became an unlikely hit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c) Susan Devonport – Baa Nitez Liverpool Football Club manager

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c) Susan Devonport – Koppy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c)Susan Devonport – Everton Football Club

One was even dressed up as the Mayor of Liverpool at the Town hall.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(c) Susan Devonport – SuperSgtPepperYellowLambSubmarineBanana


For a time there had been some doubt about the Superlambanana staying in Liverpool when it came to light that it was only on a 10 year loan from the artist, but in September 2008 talks began and 6 months later an agreement was reached whereby a replica would be made by one of the original sculptors Julian Taylor and stay in the city for the next 80 years.

You can see photos of most of the smaller Superlambananas here

I always knew we had a sense of humour here in Liverpool and even Granada Reports got in on the act back in 2008.

It’s been reported ‘Lamby’ has escaped, they think she has been liberated by an animal right group – 54 seconds in.

 Lamby was found safe and sound and released into the wild <img style='border: 0; padding:0'  src='' alt=';)'/>

Research Point: The female nude

Does the female nude exploit women for male gratification? Or does it depend on the context?

I think it does largely depend on the context in which it is used – if it used to convey a narrative in a painting it is ok but when it is just used gratuitously it isn’t. Nowadays we see the female dressed in very little in adverts on tv or in magazines trying to sell anything from perfume to cars.

Why paint the nude?

It’s an essential part of learning anatomy (for artistic purposes, not medical.) If an artist is going to paint a human realistically, then they have to understand all of the shapes that make up a body.

I found this on Ebay

UPDATE 29th September  This artist has withdrawn her paintings of nudes after they where censored by Birmingham Botanical Gardens, I don’t blame her for being annoyed I’ve seen worse on TV.

A textile artist whose blog I follow has had the same experience with some of the quilts she has been making in a series as you can read here and here.  She was approached by quilting magazines for articles but they wouldn’t include any of her quilts that included nudes in them.


Visit a Cast gallery

Unfortunately I couldn’t travel to either of the Cast galleries mentioned in the course material but luckily the Walker Art Gallery here in Liverpool has a small collection of plaster casts of the Elgin and Bassae Marbles presented to the Liverpool Royal Institution by George VI and John Foster in 1820/21.  They are displayed on a upper wall of the sculpture gallery but I managed to get some reasonable photographs of them.

038 036 037 035 018 014 017The casts appear very crisp but as I’ve never seen the originals I can’t compare them.  It would be interesting to know how the casts were made so I again looked online and found this brief explanation on the British Museum website.

On the Cambridge University online resource of their cast gallery I noticed they had a cast of a sculpture of Apollo that is in the Louvre which is similar to the Roman copy in World Museum Liverpool that I draw in an earlier exercise.



While looking online I found the website for the Cast gallery of the Ashmolean Oxford and this site for a cast gallery of the University of Missouri in the US.

UPDATE 19th November  –  just discovered the V & A has a Cast court I can see I am going to have to save up for a week long trip to London.

Research: Artists Self-portrait

I started by watching a programme that I had taped when it was on BBC 4 in 2010 Ego: The Strange and Wonderful World of Self-Portraits presented  by the Observer Art Critic Laura Cumming.  There are a few video clips here.

Art critic Laura Cumming takes a journey through more than five centuries of self-portraits and finds out how the greatest names in western art transformed themselves into their own masterpieces.

The film argues that self-portraits are a unique form of art, one that always reveals the truth of how artists saw themselves and how they wanted to be known to the world.

Why does an artist choose to paint a self-portrait?

An interesting question that I pondered over.  Is it to show their skills at getting a likeness?   To explore some inner turmoil?  How the artist wanted to be seen by the world long after they were gone  or even just as basic as having a willing model available whenever they wanted.

Most famous artist have painted at least one self-portrait during their lifetime – Vincent van Gogh left over 30 and Rembrandt over 90.

I remember listening to a programme on Radio 4 quite a few years ago about Rembrandt’s self portraits.   When an artist does a self portrait looking in a mirror it’s not as others see them but obviously a mirror image of themselves, so really they should look at any self portrait they do in another mirror to really see themnselves as others do.

Albrecht Durer Self Portrait at 28

I find this self-portrait by Albrecht Durer mesmerising as I think most people would.  It is dated 1500 and is inscribed

‘Thus I, Albrecht Durer from Nuremburg, painted myself with indelible colours at the age of 28 years’.

We will never know why he chose to paint himself like this which is an unmistakably ‘Christ’ like pose.  Was it to acknowledge that God had made man in his own image and that artistic talent is God given.  When you see talent such as this you can’t disagree. I’ve not seen it for real only in photos but I get the feeling that you may have an almost spiritual experience when viewing it, his eyes look as if they are looking deep into your soul.

This self-portrait in the Royal Collection by Artemisia Gentileschi shows her in the process of painting.  Her self portrait is the first by a woman to be included in a Royal Collection.  At this time it was rare for a woman to be an artist.

Nearly 400 hundred years later this self portrait by Magi Hambling shows her surrounded by objects that are personal to her and with three arms to hold her three essentials of life, which are a cigarette, a drink and a paintbrush.

Vincent van Gogh wrote this to his brother Theo in 1888

“I purposely bought a mirror good enough to enable me to work from my image in default of a model, because if I can manage to paint the colouring of my own head, which is not to be done without some difficulty, I shall likewise be able to paint the heads of other good souls, men and women.”

and to Émile Bernard

“I strongly urge you to study portrait painting, do as many portraits as you can and don’t flag. We must win the public over later on by means of the portrait; in my opinion it is the thing of the future.”


The Portrait

I decided to do some research in to portraiture before I started the exercises in this part of the module.

A portrait is a painting, drawing, sculpture or a photograph which shows the likeness, personality and sometimes the mood of the subject.

I think I know what the difference is between a Formal or Informal portrait but looked on the internet to see if I could find a definitive answer.  A sign of the times but the nearest I could find was for photography but would apply to painting just as well.

Formal = Posed, set up, normally in a studio.
Informal = not specifically set up or set up so the subject just carries on with what they were doing rather than specifically posing for the shot.

Until the middle of the 14th century portraits were painted in profile but now the subject usually looks directly at the artist or is turned slightly to the side.

I couldn’t find any evidence of portraiture in prehistory but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any it could just mean none survives or has never been found.  The earliest we know about are in Ancient Egypt although these were stylized and in profile.