Would you like to sit for a portrait? Does that question make you excited or cringe? In the days before photography, portrait painting was the only option for a lasting  memory of a person. Normally limited to those with fairly significant means, going to sit for a portrait would be a multi day affair. Typically, it would take the most accomplished artists three days of at least 1-2 hours each to get enough of a “base” portrait done so that the subject would no longer need to sit for the painting. Can you imagine? No moving, no bathroom or lunch breaks, just sitting utterly still? 

At least sometimes, you could have a comfy pillow and book: 

sit for a portrait
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732 – 1806 ), Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon

But other times, it just looks like it would be ridiculously uncomfortable:

Hans Holbein the Younger, (1497/8 – 1543). Portrait of Henry VIII (aged 49). 1540. Oil on panel. 88,5 cm. x 74,5 cm. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome, Italy (Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy).

Now, aren’t  you glad for the invention of the camera?! But wait, isn’t there something different about a painting versus a photograph? Of course, for starters, most of us a capable of taking a reasonably competent photograph, but significantly fewer of us can paint a reasonably competent portrait. Photos are faster, more immediate. While a painting….that takes time, sometimes a lot of time. A good photo will capture someone’s likeness in a moment, displaying all their emotion in that particular second when the shutter clicks. My office is filled with photos of my family that I love enjoying while I’m working. 

But there is something rich about a painting. Paintings are layered, not just in medium but in story. They capture not a second when the shutter clicks, but a longer timeline. It is not a perfect representation of the subject. And it is the only one – no one could duplicate that work, not even the artist herself. 

Harry the man 3 © Laura Gabel, “Harry”. Oil, 9 x 12. $650.
© Laura Gabel, “Harry”. Oil, 9 x 12. $650. Purchase Here

Laura has an incredible eye for portrait painting. Now, no one has ever come to sit for a portrait with Laura. Sometimes she uses photos as the inspiration for the painting. Perhaps the photos are of people known to her, perhaps not. Occasionally, she just paints. But what she does love to capture is the story. What are they looking at? What are they thinking? Can you imagine what they are feeling?

© Laura Gabel, "Looking Ahead". Pastel on UArt, framed with mauve mat and double framed bronze interior and silver exterior, 19 x 15 3/4. $650.
© Laura Gabel, “Looking Ahead”. Pastel on UArt, framed with mauve mat and double framed bronze interior and silver exterior, 19 x 15 3/4. $650. Purchase Here

And what about paintings done specifically in celebration of a loved one? There is something so memorable about having someone’s portrait painted. Portraits are a way of capturing for all time the essence of the person. A painting will be passed down from generation to generation, and the stories will continue to be told of the person who was so loved. 

© Laura Gabel, “Mr. Faith”. Pastel on UArt, 21 x 17. $695.
© Laura Gabel, “Mr. Faith”. Pastel on UArt, 21 x 17. $695. Purchase Here

So, while I wouldn’t encourage you to sit for a portrait for multiple days, that doesn’t mean that portraits are a thing of the past. Why not ask Laura to paint a portrait of someone dear to you? What a tremendous Christmas gift – to have a portrait of that new baby, or the grandfather who passed away, or all the grandkids. Don’t just take a picture, commission a portrait. You won’t regret it. 

Eli legacy blog 6
© Laura Gabel, “Eli”. Oil, 10×10. Private collection.

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1 Comment

Laura · November 8, 2018 at 5:19 pm

Michelle, thanks so much for your thoughts on the differences between a photo and a painting. You are right, there is something unique, so alive when an artist creates a portrait, there is a vibrancy of personality that seems to shine through. At least that is what I try to do when I am engaged in a commission. I look forward to exploring another side of a person that doesn’t seem to be captured in the flat, but nice photo. Call for a consultation, I’d love to explore your vision and photo!

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