Portraiture Continues to Turn Heads in the Art Market; with the Resurgence of Figurative Art Has Come the Revival of Portraiture-A Genre Whose Holding Power Stands the Test of Time for Both Artists and Collectors. (Portraiture)

By Silberman, Vanessa | Art Business News, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Portraiture Continues to Turn Heads in the Art Market; with the Resurgence of Figurative Art Has Come the Revival of Portraiture-A Genre Whose Holding Power Stands the Test of Time for Both Artists and Collectors. (Portraiture)


Silberman, Vanessa, Art Business News


Throughout art history, some of the most memorable images have been those inhabited with faces. From the searching gaze of Rembrandt's sitters and the regal female portraits of John Singer Sargent, to the tormented self-portraits of Van Gogh and the Pop art portraits of Alex Katz, portraits have the ability to hypnotize viewers, leaving an imprint on the inner psyche. Whether young or old, beautiful or plain, the human face has served artists as a constant source of inspiration, and sometimes obsession, for centuries.

Perhaps this is why the dismissal of figurative art during the 1960s and '70s by the art community wasn't meant to last. No longer are figurative works, of which portraits make up a substantial part, thrown into burning dumpsters and hidden away under lock and key. The abstract and conceptual art movements, while not dead, have reluctantly made room for good `ole representational art. And with the return of representational art has come the revival of portraiture, which, according to gallery owners and the artists themselves, is thriving and strong.

"Portraits have become a hot subject in the fine art field during the last three or four years," observed Robert Fishko of the Forum Gallery in New York, which represents 33 artists--29 of whom do portraits. "There have been many exhibitions of portraits both at commercial galleries and museums. It seems to be something people are very interested in at the moment."

In fact, one look at the roster of current museum and gallery exhibits across the country and it becomes clear that portraits are indeed turning heads. Currently on view at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, for example, is "Eye Contact: Modern American Portrait Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery." The exhibit includes 50 works on paper by artists such as Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence and Andy Warhol. Another exhibit, "A Brush with History: Paintings from the National Portrait Gallery," is on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Both of these exhibits, along with two other portrait shows, are touring the country while the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., undergoes a major $200 million renovation. When it reopens in two years, the Gallery will reclaim its place as one of the most visited institutions in the nation's capitol, which can only mean good things for the portrait genre.

A Thriving Market

The renewed interest in portraiture, according to Shelley Stansfield, a founding member of the New York Society of Portrait Artists, began in the mid-1980s alongside the resurgence of representational art in general. "That whole genre of painting got hit pretty hard during the 1960s and '70s," she said. "Portraiture got pushed aside because it's not exploitive, shocking or sensational. Today though the market is very strong."

"People didn't know where to go to get portraits a few years back," added Michael Curtis, owner of the Classical Gallery in Alexandria, Va., which represents the work of seven portrait painters, including Robert Liberace and Michael Aviano. "Modernism had this kind of deathgrip on style in the country. During the past decade, however, there has been a resurgence of Classicism and traditional styles. During the last four years, I can't remember holding an exhibit that didn't have portraits in it."

Indeed, a return to a more classical sensibility is a major reason why the market for portraiture is booming. "The market for figurative and representational work has grown dramatically over the last five years, and portraits are an intrinsic part of the genre," commented Frann Bradford of the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in New York, which specializes in representational art and classical figurative art. The gallery represents the work of artists like Dan Thompson, winner of the Grand Prize at the 2001 Portrait Arts Festival held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sponsored by the American Society of Portrait Artists.

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Portraiture Continues to Turn Heads in the Art Market; with the Resurgence of Figurative Art Has Come the Revival of Portraiture-A Genre Whose Holding Power Stands the Test of Time for Both Artists and Collectors. (Portraiture)
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