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Best Portrait Artists

Posted by on October 11, 2010

Every reliable source on the best portrait artists in the history of European art includes the 17th Century Dutch painter, Rembrandt; Flemish painter of the 17th Century, Frans Hals; and 19th Century French Realist painter, Gustave Courbet. Each was an outstanding artist and innovator during his lifetime as well as a powerful and lasting influence on art and world cultures to follow.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) was born in Leiden, the Netherlands. Although his father was a miller of modest means, he encouraged his son to pursue his amazing talents in art. Rembrandt entered the University of Leiden at the age of 14, but left soon after to study art in Amsterdam. As an adult, his personal life took a tragic turn, and all four of his children, his first wife, and later on, his second wife died during his lifetime. Despite his misfortunes, Rembrandt was a prolific master artist. He produced an extensive body of 2,300 works, including many celebrated paintings, drawings and etchings. Among his most famous portrait paintings are his: (1) Self Portrait as a Young Man (1628); (2) Head of Christ (1648); and (3) Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts (1631).
Rembrandt used “chiaroscuro,” an Italian term describing the technique of highlighting or encompassing a painting’s subject in light against a dark background. The Italian artist Caravaggio (1573 – 1610) used this technique, and Rembrandt made it world-famous. He used layering of colors and painted with either muted tones or bright hues, depending on his subject. Rembrandt and other Dutch painters in the 17th Century (Dutch Golden Age painters), often applied thick layers of paint (“impasto”) over thinly glazed under-coatings. Beneath the glazing was the original sketch for the painting, often traced or transferred to the wooden panel painting surface using a grid. Rembrandt was actually the first painter of his time to paint primarily on canvas. He had the strong desire to reveal the underlying mysteries of nature in his works, and his portraits are known for their strong, genuine facial expressions and character.

Flemish painter Frans Hals (1582 – 1666) was born in Antwerp, the son of a cloth merchant. He began his career as an art restorer and first gained recognition for his life-size group portrait, The Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia Company, in 1611. His most famous portrait was probably his painting of Rene Descartes in 1649. His style has been described as intimate realism with a dramatically free approach.
Hals popularized the technique of “alla prima” (Italian for “at first”), using a ‘wet on wet’ painting method. These paintings were usually completed in one sitting without waiting for one layer to dry before applying the next. Alla prima became the favored oil painting method of the Impressionist movement in painting. Colors were quickly combined and mixed on a palette and applied to small areas of canvas, using a flat, fan shaped brush for smoothing. Hals also often used a badger brush, much like the wide brushes used today for house and outdoor painting.

Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) was born into a prosperous farming family in Omans. Leader of the Realist art movement in France in the 19th Century, he initiated the vital bridge which Realism became between the Romantic painters (Géricault and Delacroix) and the Impressionists. Courbet was a bold innovator who often incorporated strong tones of social commentary in his art. He often declared that the only regime he belonged to was the regime of liberty. He was admired as a hero of the French avant-garde, and he became a great inspiration to the younger Impressionist generation of painters such as Manet.

The modern-day Denver, CO, graphic designer, illustrator and artist, Shane Burke, produces high quality works of art in many diverse media. He uses the media of oil and acrylic paints, water colors, charcoal, pen and ink, and many more. In addition, he is an excellent graphic artist and quite proficient in the use of digital graphics and computer programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Final Cut, Dream Weaver, Flash, Premiere and Toon Boom. He has completed numerous professional assignments in the fields of film and entertainment, video production, motion graphics, book illustration, and Web development and design.
Shane’s fine art pieces appear in many collections, and among his most admired works are his portraits in diverse media.

Shane Burke,

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