Twelve Portrait Paintings of Interest in Houston’s MFAH
Studying the work of fine artists through the centuries and how they portray the people who pay them to create portraits can tell us a lot about the times and lifestyles of their subjects and also the current artistic trends of the day regarding the painting style of these portraits.
Please take time to enjoy the twelve portrait paintings that drew my interest inside of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH).
By no means is this an exhaustive listing but just a sample of what you will find if and when you get to visit our fine arts museum in person.
There are areas where photography is allowed as long as one does not use a flash and other areas that are off limits. Obviously the portraits offered here for your viewing pleasure are from the area where one can take pictures.
This is a Russian artist who lived from 1864 to 1941 and who created this Portrait of a Woman in 1912. It is an oil painted on board.
The notes to the side of this striking painting tells us that Jawlensky liked using the “strong colors of Fauvism” and also the “vigorous brushwork of Expressionism.”
In a book of his memoirs Jawlensky thought that the series of square pictures of large-scale heads like this one titled Portrait of a Woman were considered by him to be the best work that he had created.
This most famous of painters was French and lived in the years from 1839 to 1906. He was a Post-Impressionist painter bridging the 19th and 20th century.
Both Matisse and Picasso who both became famous painters credited Paul Cézanne with being “the father of us all.”
Although his father wanted him to study law, he ultimately financed his study of art. Due to the generous allowance Cézanne was not the typical “starving artist” but was free to learn and explore.
In this painting above he portrays his wife with his distinctive brushstrokes and unique choice of colors.
This oil on canvas was created in 1854 by Franz X. Winterhalter, a German artist who lived from 1805 to 1873.
According to the notations to the side of this portrait painting, Countess Eugénie de Montijo was of Portuguese descent. After marrying Napoleon the third in 1853, she graced the French throne with grace and elegance emulating the fashionable Marie Antoinette.
With the patronage of Empress Eugénie and the French court, Franz Winterhalter’s fame and success as a portraitist became well known.
The Empress was a beautiful woman and was gracefully adorned with layers of elegant clothing for this particular portrait. The youthful lines of her neck and shoulders were accentuated by the simple flowers placed at her bosom, Her up-swept hair and her youth was forever captured and memorialized with this particular painting.
An English artist who lived from 1769 to 1830, Thomas Lawrence produced this Portrait of John Joseph Henry as an oil on canvas in the year 1805.
Thomas Lawrence was the leading portrait painter in England at the time. John Joseph Henry at the time of this sitting was the high sheriff of County Kildare in Ireland. He is dressed in Roman costume with his hair cut in a “Brutus crop” which according to notations at the side of this painting was popular at the beginning of the 19th century.
Lawrence died before finishing and delivering this painting to sheriff Henry. It is painted over a sketch of another male sitter which is still slightly visible under the right kind of lighting and with some scrutiny on the part of the viewer at the bottom of this canvas.
This was a French artist who lived from 1869 to 1952 and in 1906 he painted this charming oil on canvas using his wife, Madame Valtat, as his model.
Louis Valtat was among the first painters to embrace the colorful style of Fauvism blending it with an Impressionistic style. He was a participant in the very first Fauve exhibition at the Salon d’ Automne in 1905.
Can you see evidence in this painting of his being influenced by the artists van Gogh and also Renoir?
This Italian artist lived from 1884 to 1920. He created this oil on canvas titled Léopold Zborowski in 1916.
Léopold Zborowski was a Polish poet who met Modigliani in the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse.
What is really interesting according to the notations to the side of this painting is that although Léopold Zborowski was not a rich man, he so appreciated the work done by Modigliani that he decided to financially support him. When he died Zborowski’s widow had to sell all of the Modigliani paintings in her possession because of being left so deeply in debt.
Not your typical story of art patronage!
This was a French artist who lived from 1868 to 1940. He painted this Distemper on canvas from 1913 – 1914.
For more information about Distemper painting which basically is a method of combining the colored elements like chalk or lead with a gelatinous substance, click on the highlighted link from which you can read more if you are interested.
The subject matter is titled Marcelle Aron (Madame Tristan Bernard). This stylish lady is forever captured on canvas petting her blonde dog in this highly patterned room in which more of the surrounding space is reflected in the mirror behind her.
Nicolas de Largilliere
This artist was French and lived in the years 1656 to 1746. He painted this Portrait of Pierre Câdeau de Mongazon in the year 1715. It is an oil on canvas.
According to notations to the side of this painting, Nicolas de Largilliere was an extremely prolific artist in his time producing well over 1,500 portraits!
This subject “was probably painted about 1715 just after the sitter had been appointed as a court magistrate.”
Look at that terrific curly white wig on the magistrate’s head. At least I am supposing it is a wig which seems to have been part of the costuming just as important as the robes worn in court back in that time.
An English artist who lived from 1723 to 1792, this oil on canvas of the Portrait of Mrs. Jeff Powis and her daughter was painted in 1777.
The notation to the side of this large painting states the following:
First president of the Royal Academy in London, Joshua Reynolds was the most influential artist and one of the most important portrait painters in 18th-century England. In his lectures to the Academy, he urged that modern painting, even portraiture, be based on antique prototypes. He seems to have followed his own precept in this portrait: the painter “dresses his figure something with the general air of the antique for the sake of dignity, and preserves something of the modern for the sake of Likeness.”
This is a French artist who lived in the years 1685 to 1766. He executed this oil on canvas in 1727 and the subject is the Portrait of Monsieur d’ Hôtel in Hunting Clothes.
Back in the 16th century the aristocracy often chose to be portrayed with some of what would have occupied a portion of their time…in this case, the hunting gear and one of his dogs. We can learn much about the pastimes and interests of the wealthy by looking at portraits such as this one.
Jean-Marc Nattier started out as a history painter but turned to portraiture because it more readily paid the bills.
Raeburn was a Scottish artist who lived in the years from 1756 to 1823. He painted this Portrait of Lieutenant Colonel William Shirriff, H.E.I.C.S. in 1800 and it is an oil on canvas.
This proud looking Lieutenant Colonel was in the service of the East India Company in 1800 and died in 1802 as the result of an accident. It is a large canvas and shows the proud looking Lieutenant Colonel in his elaborate costume wielding his sword.
Henry Raeburn made his successful career painting entirely in Scotland rather than migrating to London as so many other artists did in that day and age.
A French artist who lived from 1645 to 1730, he painted this Self-portrait in 1704. This self-portrait along with one of his wife was exhibited in The Academy Salon of 1704.
Francois de Troy painted for many monarchs including Louis XIV and Louis XV along with other members of high society. He was famous throughout Europe and almost exclusively painted portraits.
His son, Jean Francois de Troy followed in his footsteps and also made a name for himself as an artist.
Without even knowing who he was it would be easy to identify this man as an artist and painter with him displaying his palette and brushes in this pose.
Hopefully you enjoyed this look at 12 of the portrait paintings of interest inside Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH). It is a fantastic museum holding these masterpieces and so much more! If you liked this post, please leave a comment. And if you get a chance to visit Houston,Texas be sure and set aside some time to visit our fine art museum. It will be time well spent!