The Ten Greatest Portraits
Ten immortal masterpieces
that tower over all the rest.
featured in The Artist's Magazine, Special
Porrait Issue, April, 2005
will probably be viewed as chutzpa of
the most inflated kind to attempt to identify
the ten most important portraits of all time.
But I can report that the experience was relatively
simple. Once the criteria were established,
the paintings virtually chose themselves. To
select the greatest portraits, I applied the
following four standards:
1. Pervasive, universal, popular recognition.
Which portraits are, and have been, the most
widely recognized, loved and admired?
2. Impact on the practice of portraiture.
Which paintings have exerted the strongest influence
on the work of other artists?
3. Inherent artistic quality. Which portraits
demonstrate the great traditional attributes
of truth and beautymanifested in sound
draftsmanship, realistic and appealing color,
creative and intelligent design of the composition,
and exciting execution (brushwork).
4. Evoking the reality of the portrait's
subject. Which portraits transmitto the maximum degreethe character and
human qualities of the subject? Which portraits
vibrate with the living aura of a real human
being at a specific moment in time?
These four standards made the job easy. For
example, applying number one immediately filled
several of the ten slots. The list, with the
requirement of universal, popular recognition,
would demand Leonardo's Mona Lisa and
Whistler's Mother, whatever we might
think of their other qualities. Such a standard
would also require inclusion of Gainsborough's
Blue Boy and Lawrence's Pinkie.
We move easily on to Hals' Laughing Cavalier,
andpresto!one half of our list
I was absolutely certain that the remaining
five slots must be filled by paintings by Raphael,
Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Sargent and Velázquez.
Raphael was easythe Baldassar Castiglione
in the Louvre is unquestionably that young artist's
greatest portrait. Sargent's greatest is Madame
X. Velázquez' mountaintop is his
immortal portrait of Pope Innocent X.
So we were down to choosing a Rembrandt and
a Van Dyck. In my view, the great group composition
The Syndics of the Clothmakers' Guild
possesses a rare power, so in it went. And which
of so many mighty Van Dycks? I've chosen the
great full-length of Charles 1. It is
Van Dyck at his supreme best.
I will be eager to read your responses to this
to view The Ten Greatest Portraits.