Turner’s well-crafted portraits are noted for their simple yet strongly unified composition, their natural vitality, and sympathetic characterization. This gallery presents samples of Turner's original portraits, featuring a variety of male and female subjects. Notes accompanying each portrait present the artist's comments on style and composition of the work.
In this work, the cello allows for a simple yet strongly unified composition. The opposing axes of instrument and subject intersect at the subject's hand, so that the hand is not just holding the cello but also holding the composition together. Curves of the instrument are repeated in the pearls, and in Ms. Ladines' hair and face. A subdued palette was used, appropriate for a formal portrait of this type. Ms. Ladines' eyes were carefully rendered, showing the cellist as alert, intelligent, and sympathetic.
In this portrait of a prominent eye surgeon, background elements—arranged to give depth and balance to the composition—are subordinated in soft shadow. In the lighted foreground, Dr. Bartlett's glasses, wedding ring, pen, and tie provide accents that lead the viewer's eye in a sweeping curve from the subject's right hand to the warm, engaging expression of his face.
This portrait presents the more grown-up side of 8-year old Shaala's personality. Her fair complexion, graceful hands, and lace dress convey a charming, delicate femininity. The position of Shaala's hands on the chair arm adds depth to the composition. The slope of her shoulders parallels the chair arm and is balanced by the tilt of her head. An impressionist style was used for the background, painted with youthful colors that complement the purple dress.
The subject's pose and the predominant blue of the composition suggest calm and relaxation. This mood is appropriate for Mr. Stubbs, a retired educator and man of quiet dignity. The newspaper adds interest to the composition, while the angles of the leg and tie lead the viewer's eye to Mr. Stubbs' attentive face.
Mr. Sheff has striking masculine features, but this portrait captures his introspective character. The simple composition and subdued lighting allow nothing to detract from the subject's contemplative gaze. The face is surrounded by a subtle color harmony, with reds in the background and greens in the garment shadows.
In this composition the long curve of the iguana's tail and torso is balanced by the strong vertical of the subject and the horizontal of her forearm. Cool blues and greens throughout the painting accentuate the color of Joelene's hair. The reptile's stripes are a stepladder for the eye, leading to the focal point of the portrait.
Painting toddlers can be a challenge, but this work was a pleasure to create. The portrait reveals Travis' playful nature and happy disposition. The composition does not include the usual toys and teddy bears, but instead focuses attention entirely on the subject's lively, expressive face.
The softened form and muted colors of background and silk blouse complement Ms. Yang's gentle disposition. The accents of necklace and earring provide interest without unduly detracting from the main focus of the painting—the subject's modest half-smile and eyes that are both kind and keen.
This portrait was painted with only three earth colors, plus black and white. Rembrandt is well known for using a very restricted palette and this technique, though challenging, affords excellent color harmony. The three colors I chose were yellow ochre, Venetian red, and burnt umber.
Producing copies of earlier great works was common practice with many master artists of the past. Rubens, for example, continued to copy works by Titian and others throughout his career, even long after his own reputation as a master was well established. Turner notes that, "Although faithful to the originals, my master portrait reproductions are not stroke-for-stroke copies. Instead, I have applied my own technique to these superb compositions. Each work was inspirational, educational, and a rewarding pleasure, from start to finish."
"Painting a Rembrandt is a humbling experience," observes Turner. "Even after extensive scientific analysis, some of Rembrandt's methods of paint application are still not clearly understood. So instead of trying to duplicate the Dutch master's unique impasto brushwork, I have used a softer technique with some blended passages to render the overall chiaroscuro effect of Rembrandt's portrait of his sixteen-year-old son Titus." The contrast of light and shadow and the somber, restricted palette add to the intimacy of this sympathetic portrait.
It is interesting to note that the Renoir original of Romaine Lacaux was painted in the same year as the original of the Winterhalter portrait shown below. Although both portraits have a strongly unified composition, the styles are quite different. As a court painter, Winterhalter portrayed his subjects with an air of relaxed luxury and refinement. Renoir depicted feminine beauty in the Impressionist manner, using subtle nuances of color and light. Turner has adapted each work to his own more direct method of traditional realistic characterisation.
"Sargent's stunning portrait of Lady Agnew has always attracted me for its bravura brushwork and superb color harmonies," says Turner. "In this rendering, I have not attempted to copy Sargent's unique style. I have modeled the subject's face with more finished detail, and the fabric is rendered more softly. At the time of the original painting, Lady Agnew was unwell. I have endeavored to portray her as she might have looked in better health." Even with these adjustments, the portrait maintains a powerful impact.
Greuze was hugely popular in his day for painting narrative scenes in the moralistic genre. Lithographs of his works were widely distributed. As a skilled draftsman, Greuze produced many portraits and character studies. The young woman in this portrait, presented in the form of a bust, engages the viewer with a lively expression. In this rendering, Turner has retained the line and form of Greuze' original, but modified the flesh tone and overall color scheme.
This life-size portrait showcases the artist's rendering of fabric and flesh. According to Turner, "This is one of my favorite works at the Musée d'Orsay. It's an arresting portrait. Winterhalter has portrayed his subject with beautiful, pearlescent flesh and a soft, sensous charm. Although the garment takes up a third of the picture space, it's the subject's head that is the focus of attention. The sweeping curves of hair, ribbons, and arm all lead the viewer's eye to Madame Rimsky-Korsakov's lovely face."
The bright red of this elegant and attractive woman's dress is balanced by the dark green of the sleeves, chair, and background. Highlights in the rosary, the hardware on the chair, and the subject's gold chain and head piece provide accents for the painting and interest for the eye. The rosary and lap dog are symbols of piety and marital fidelity. The original work was formerly attributed to Bronzino's mentor Jacopo Pontormo. It's a larger painting (35" x 27 1/2"), and is referred to also by the title A Lady with a Dog.
This section contains a small sampling of Old Master portraits. According to Turner, "These works are typical of the style and techniques that have influenced my painting. They are powerful and inspirational portraits that I have personally viewed and studied. In addition to those represented here, artists of influence for me include Rubens, Sargent, and Titian." (See Portrait of the Month for other notable master portraits.)
This stunning work is one of the world's most famous portraits. Hals' brisk, energetic brushwork brings spontenaity and vitality to his portraits. The embroidery detail in this work is a technical tour de force that complements the superb, lively portrait of this unnamed young man with the smiling eyes.
The greatest of all Dutch painters and one of the supreme artists of all time, Rembrandt was brilliant and versatile. His works are noted for their strong chiaroscuro contrast and heavy impasto highlights, but it's the compassionate handling of his subjects that gives Rembrandt's portraits their universal appeal.
This is a rare example of Velazquez' portraiture outside the court of Philip IV of Spain. Velazquez was a gifted painter who possessed an extraordinary ability to convey the inner life of his subjects. He communicated their essential humanity with keen psychological penetration.
This section contains a sampling of still life and landscape paintings by the artist. Each work is notable for its strong composition and effective use of color. Accompanying each picture is a brief note describing Turner's view of key elements of style and composition.
This still life is a study in color and texture. The open, elevated style of the basket lifts the main fruit group off the counter and into center of the composition. The viewer's eye is led into the picture from the knife handle and through the wire frame of the basket to the fruit. The vertical bottles, foreground fruit, and receding diagonal of the counter provide balance and contrast.
In this landscape, the horizon and silhouetted pine trees divide the picture plane into rectangles, creating an abstract pattern that is restful and static. The dominant rectangle provides a sub-frame for the focus of interest: the dramatic, angular sweep of late-summer evening clouds. These bold diagonals contrast the vertical trees and flat horizon. A warm atmospheric glow was achieved by glazing the sky and lake colors over a canvas primed with red.
In the quiet composition of this still life, the large jar has a monumental quality as it dominates the picture space. The strong horizontals of the wooden shelf give the work a restful stillness. Leaves and shadows add depth to the picture and help balance the mass of the main forms. The blue decoration of the jar complements and accentuates the vibrant color of the oranges.
This still life is a harmony of the complementary colors red and green: red and green apples, red and green grapes, red wine in a green bottle, all on a redwood table against a green background. The basic composition is a triangle containing multiple repeats of circles and ellipses.
In counterpoint to his traditional realist work, Turner creates geometric abstract paintings. Each image represents a single-plane, two-dimensional, abstract view. The geometry is based on the 'golden section' of the four sides of a rectangle, which provides a natural balance and rhythm to the paintings. The limited color range and value scale add to the intrinsic harmony of these works. (For details of the geometry, see FAQ #19.)