Face Making

Le blog de l’artiste peintre franco-américaine Gwenn Seemel. Les articles sont en anglais et en français, et souvent ils sont bilingues.

Why people commission portraits of themselves

2012 . 11 . 19 - Comments / Commentaires (2)

J’ai aussi écrit une version française de cet article.

There’s this idea that if you want a portrait of yourself, you must be some kind of a megalomaniac, but that’s a very superficial read on the situation.  There are lots of possible motivations for commissioning a painting of yourself.



painted diptych of a couple

Gwenn Seemel
Curnis and Becky
2010
acrylic on canvas
17 x 26 inches (combined dimensions)
(For more information about the making of these paintings, go here.)

In my near-decade as a portraitist, the top reason why people commission paintings of themselves is to get a spouse to sit for me.  In other words, someone wants a portrait of her-his partner, but the partner won’t play unless they’re both being painted.



a pair of portraits painted in acrylic

Gwenn Seemel
Mike and Laurie
2010
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches and 20 x 20 inches
(For more information about the making of these paintings, go here.)

Running a close second to this is the desire to have a complete pair.  One spouse won’t sit without the other because that wouldn’t represent who they are.  This can also happen with families: one person wants everyone in the family painted and so it seems wrong for the client not to commission her or his own portrait as well.



double portrait of an adult daughter and her mother

Gwenn Seemel
Pat And Eleanor
2011
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches
(For more information about the making of this painting, go here.)

Along those same lines, a person may commission a portrait of her or him self as a way to honor a special relationship.  The painting isn’t about the person doing the commissioning: it’s about the interaction between the client and the other subject.



painted portrait of a man

Gwenn Seemel
Dick
2010
acrylic on canvas
16 x 14 inches
(For more information about the making of this painting, go here.)

Sometimes people commission me to paint their portraits simply because they like my work…



a painted portrait

Gwenn Seemel
Margo
2007
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches
(For more information about the making of this painting, go here.)

...or it can be about having the experience of sitting for portrait.



portrait of a man

Gwenn Seemel
Jon
2006
acrylic on canvas
16 x 15 inches

A self-commissioned portrait can also be a way for someone to commemorate a transition that she or he is going through or to mark some other kind of special moment.



portrait of a woman

Gwenn Seemel
Jeannette
2009
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches
(For more information about the making of this painting, go here.)

In this case, the subject commissioned me to paint her portrait because she knew it would make me more likely to accept another commission, a painting of her deceased husband.  By the time I met Jeannette, I had pretty much decided I wouldn’t paint people I couldn’t meet, but she hooked me with the story of her relationship to this man and sealed the deal by agreeing to sit for me too.



portrait painting

Gwenn Seemel
Bud
2007
acrylic on canvas
21 x 17 inches

In fact, this genre often has to do with mortality.  For example, this client wanted to be able to give the gift of a painted portrait to his family after he passed away.



painting of a person

Gwenn Seemel
Michael
2006
acrylic on bird’s eye
24 x 18 inches

Finally, a self-commissioned portrait can be about joy—pure joy or joy in the face of sadness.  The subject of this portrait commissioned it to celebrate the beard he’d had his whole adult life right before he lost it to chemotherapy. 

Portraiture has long been associated with narcissism, but there’s not really a good reason for that.  If anything, the self-centered reputation of the genre has to do with its beginnings as a way for royalty to reinforce its importance, and thinking of portraiture in that context skips over the more recent and much more interesting evolution of the genre as it came to be embraced by individuals living in democracies.

In the end, a portrait is a window into how the world sees you, and anyone who’s not at least a little curious about that is probably a bit of a sociopath.


RELATED ARTICLES:
- How to commission an artist
- Portraits don’t just get painted.
- Is it vain to want to have your portrait done?


CATÉGORIES: - Business of art - Portraiture -



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(2) Comments / Commentaires: Why people commission portraits of themselves

-- Lee Gascoyne -- 2012 . 11 . 19 --

Some lovely portrait examples and also nice to hear your voice of experience regarding the genre.

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 11 . 22 --

Thanks Lee!

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