ARECENT French writer, in referring to the art of portrait painting, exalted it to the highest rank, proclaiming it the greatest of all arts. He then proceeded, by a series of curious antithetical sentences, to set forth his opinion of portrait painting, stating that it was at once the oldest and the most modern of arts, the easiest and the most difficult, the simplest and the most abstruse, the clearest and the most subtle. His statement, it is clear, contained a definite basis of truth, coupled with a certain interesting extravagance of expression. It is quite true that to draw a portrait was the aim of the very earliest of draughtsmen, whether it was that of his companion or of one of the beasts of chase, and whether he carved it on a bone, or daubed it on the wall of his dwelling. The first endeavour, also, of a child, playing with a pencil, or a brush, is to draw a portrait, and the very simplest outline does occasionally reveal that an idea of portraiture is latent in the mind of the young artist. If only simplicity of line is desired, nothing can be more simple, while at the same time nothing is more perfect, than the outline or profile drawing of such a great artist as Holbein, or the work of some of the early French draughtsmen.
At the same time, the subtlety of this draughtsmanship cannot be denied. For complexity and difficulty, portraiture takes a supreme place, and yet, on the other hand, as the Frenchman points out in his antithetical sentences, it is to a certain extent a simple art, and we all know artists who are able with a piece of chalk to suggest an even startling likeness which they would be quite unable to complete into the form of a perfect portrait. Many a painter thinks at first that portraiture is simple and easy, in fact he finds it so, but the older he grows, the more does he realise that the human features are complex in the extreme, and that the variations of expression make the difficulties in the task of portraying them enormous. From very early times, however, there has been a natural desire to have portraits of the persons about us, and to have these portraits in portable form; hence, after a long succession of vicissitudes, has come the miniature.
Author George C. Williamson
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Date Added: August 19, 2012, 7:16 pm
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