Art Gallery Gauvin

Australian Bush Legends

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More on the Portrait

detail_the Mona Lisa

More on the Portrait

 

The greatest boon of the camera is in letting you catch that characteristic gesture or stance of your subject when s/he is at ease and forgetting to 'pose.'

An example of this happened during the first session for my portrait of a well-known conservationist and fellow artist. When Percy came to view the finished work, he brought along his wife and his mother. They were all pleased with the portrait, but Percy protested that he never stood with his hands thrust down in his pockets as shown in the painting. As he said it, his two ladies laughed, and as  they pointed at him, Percy looked down and grinned, seeing his hands were, at that moment, stuck deep in his trouser pockets.
 see Percy Trezise

Of course, as every portrait painter knows, a truly accurate rendition of the subject may provoke disappointment caused by the sitter's own vanity or the sentimentality of relatives and friends. This obstacle arose very early in my own career. The sitter  was about to resume her overseas posting and wanted the portrait as a gift for her mother. Lucy (not her real name) was a very beautiful woman in her mid-forties, with a 'lived-in' face full of character. But like so many women of our Super-model era, Lucy worried about the lines that made her face so expressive, even in repose. Her only request to me was: 'You will take out my wrinkles, won't you?' Sitting her down at my dressing table, I asked her to smile into the mirror. She was then able to see, as I had, that her so-called wrinkles were all lines of good humour and a record of the happiness she had experienced.

Some weeks later, I took a phone call from Lucy's mother, who asked if she could bring the portrait to my studio for discussion about a change she'd like made. I figured this would be minor; after all, it's been infamously said that 'A portrait is a likeness in which there's something wrong with the mouth.' But did I get a shock! The lady explained that her daughter did not have 'all those wrinkles' and she had brought along some photos to prove it and help me change the painting.

Carefully, I set them out in a row, asking the mother to tell me what age Lucy was when each photo was taken. The oldest of them was taken when Lucy was nineteen. I then laid out the photos I had taken of Lucy at her sitting, letting the mother make her own comparisons. She was able to realise that her fond maternal memory had obscured the reality.

I did this once, myself. An attempt to produce a portrait of my son as a gift for his grandmother resulted in an aberration that made him appear angelic. Only he had the ability to make me see what I'd done: 'Mum, you've painted this one with the eye of a Mother, not a Painter.'  Read about The Contract...