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Modern-Day Masters of Portraiture
Here are six of our favorite new masters of portraiture
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Portraiture brings to mind oil paintings of royal families, the Mona Lisa, and old-world artists like Raphael and Édouard Manet. But modern-day portraiture, which includes artful photography as well as painting, fascinates too. New artists like John Swannell and Maria Teresa Meloni (whose Blue-Haired Child is above) are capturing entire lives, families, and personalities with their cameras and brushstrokes. Here are six of our favorite new masters of portraiture.
Be sure to check out seven tips from a photo pro on how to take the picture-perfect family portrait.
Maria Teresa Meloni (b. 1978)
The Italian-born Meloni displays the kind of dazzling artistry associated with 16th-century Florence rather than Manhattan’s 21st-century SoHo, where she lives and paints.
With a melodic voice that hits the high notes when serenading sitters, Meloni works like an alchemist, mixing her own primer—a concoction of rabbit-skin glue, marble dust, and crushed eggshells. There is greatness in the way she harnesses light and emotion, turning her portrait work into museum-caliber paintings, drawings, and photographs.
An admirer of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Meloni similarly attracts grand patrons: Johnson & Johnson heiress Libet Johnson, banking heir Matthew Mellon, and the Earl and Countess Albemarle (Rufus and Sally), among others. “We like to be immortalized,” coos Meloni, who even designs the old-world linen-and-silk smocks that sitters wear.
Meloni’s tender, intimate family photograph above was commissioned by 26th-generation winemaker Alessia Antinori.
Maria Meloni has a full schedule (so book early), but anyone craving instant gratification can contact her father, Marco Meloni. The Florence-based portraitist flexes his artistic muscle with soft, shadowy red-chalk drawings (such as Putti,above)delivered in three weeks. Marco can work from patron-supplied photographs and Skype.
Contact the impressive father-daughter duo at meloniportraits.com.
Photographs of Meloni paintings courtesy of Maria Teresa Meloni
Jeremy Lipking (b. 1975)
Portrait Society of America’s four-time award winner, Lipking mesmerizes with fluid, brilliant brushwork. He is more interested in painting than portraiture, and it shows in his sensuous surfaces. “Even if you don’t know the person, you should enjoy looking at the painting,” says Lipking, who admires John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, and Swedish painter Anders Zorn.
Jeremy Lipking’s fetching daughter, Skylar, inspired Eden Rose (previous slide), vibrant Skylar in Blue, 2010 (following slide), and Portrait of Skylar at 5 (above). Lipking offers figurative painting classes in his Agoura Hills, California, studio as well as an outdoor painting workshop in Stockholm, Sweden.
Lipking’s portraiture clearly rises to the level of art (and then some), and we wouldn’t be surprised to find the serene visage of daughter Skylar hanging in the Met someday. While he accepts commissions (including hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg and movie producer Joel Silver), gorgeous landscapes form a significant part of his body of work. Contact him at The Art of Jeremy Lipking.
Paintings courtesy of Jeremy Lipking
When it comes to portraiture, Brits lead the way, thanks to a long history of ancestor portraits and London’s National Portrait Gallery. The Portrait Gallery sponsors an annual awards competition that nurtures new talent and rewards it handsomely. Artists lucky enough to make the short list or win the £25,000 cash prize, called the “BP” (British Portraiture) Award, are assured a flurry of commissions.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., dangles its own carrot, called the Outwin Boochever Award, but the triennial event is relatively young and limits entries to artists living in the United States.
BP Award winner Nicola “Nicky” Philipps (b. 1964) was commissioned by London’s National Portrait Gallery to render the first likenesses of handsome Princes William and Harry in oil on canvas. Recalling the refined yet relaxed style of John Singer Sargent, the double portrait is periodically displayed in the gallery.
The royal brothers sat for five 90-minute sessions wearing military uniforms. Philipps painted the princes in her studio and at Clarence House.
She is happy to take commissions for family portraits as long as the kids are 16 or older. “I don’t really paint very young children because I like painting from life, and they don’t sit still!” she explains. She does, however, paint pets; check out her portraits of Lola, a friend’s cocker spaniel, and of Lady Clifford, High Sheriff of Devon, with two lurchers.
Her prices range from $23,000 for a bust-length portrait to $110,000 for a majestic full-length painting. Contact her at email@example.com, or click here to view her Fine Arts Commissions profile.
Photographs: HRH Prince William and HRH Prince Harry by Nicola Philipps, 2010, © National Portrait Gallery, London.
John Swannell (b. 1946)
The brotherly bond so evident in Nicky Philipps’s portrait of William and Harry is especially poignant after a look at the subjects when they were young in celebrity photographer Swannell’s sweet family portrait with their mum, the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
“I love doing portraits,” says Swannell. His camera has captured the refreshingly unguarded side of some very recognizable faces, including Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother, Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Margaret Thatcher, and Bob Geldof.
Swannell has also done his share of famous family portraiture (although he’s much too discreet to shoot and tell) and gladly takes commissions in London and New York. Members of his own family are always favorite subjects, too. “I’ve got beautiful pictures of my wife [American-born former model Marianne Lah] and kids [daughter Sophia and son Charlie].”
Photograph courtesy of John Swannell
Thomas Leveritt (b. 1976)
Anglo-American artist Thomas Leveritt won the Carroll Medal for Portraiture from the U.K.’s Royal Society of Portrait Painters and has painted many prominent Brits. For Leveritt, commissions are more than an income stream; they’re a source of inspiration. “It’s a wonderful feeling—doing a painting when you know that it’s going to be loved by a family,” he says.
He depicts to-the-manner-born young people in their element in posh settings. In one painting titled Lord Stanley with Boldini (2009, above), a smiling, young aristo in retro riding garb stands alongside his steed, the composition a photo-realist update on a Diego Velázquez infanta.
In The Benyon Brothers (2010, above), the sons of a member of Parliament—a trio of teens and their two little brothers—are at home in an elegant interior hung with gold-framed paintings (all, slyly, miniature Leveritts). Instead of posing to match their elegant surroundings, these boys are, well, boys—lounging and loafing, perched rakishly on the sofa back with one foot on an armrest and reclining on the carpet to pore over stacks of books. By avoiding stiff “standing-by-the-mantel” poses, the artist confers a confident captain-of-industry aura on these junior leaders-to-be.
Raised in Dallas, Texas, and educated at Harrow and Cambridge, Leveritt takes a formal U.K. painting style and dresses it for U.S. casual Friday: “My American side brings a bit more of, ‘All right, fellas, let’s calm down about it,’” notes the artist.
Leveritt charges about $20,000 for a portrait. Contact him at his Web site.
Paintings courtesy of Thomas Leveritt
Laura Chasman (b. 1946)
An Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition finalist in 2009, Boston-based Laura Chasman welcomes commissions. Her youngest sitter to date was 4 years old. For this artist, children are never depicted as part of a larger family; rather, they are singled out as individuals. The teenage years are a particular fascination of Chasman’s, starting with her own son, Oliver, who has logged 20 years of modeling for annual portraits.
Chronicling subtle changes in her boy’s development from child to young man, Chasman says, “I am drawn to adolescents—their angst, their state of becoming, the way they look. Teenagers are at a stage of transition in their lives—making their own decisions, socializing with their friends. There’s an awkwardness and an expressiveness that I always see.”
A high regard for her subjects is clearly evident in her delicate work, which takes the form of square gouaches on board. She fondly quotes J.D. Salinger: “A child is a guest in the house to be loved and respected, never possessed.” She works from photographs, but “they have to be my own photos because I have to meet the people I paint.”
Photographs courtesy of Laura Chasman
Tips on Taking a Better Family Photograph
Want some advice on taking timeless family photos? We asked expert Julie Floyd, founder of Classic Kids Photography.
“I really loathe the matchy-matchy family photograph where everyone is dressed alike—white T-shirt and jeans,” says Julie. “I think it’s very ’80s, not hip and modern.” With photo studios in 10 cities across the country, Classic Kids focuses on capturing a child’s character. To achieve this, Floyd favors sophisticated shades of gray—classic black-and-white photographs.
• Get back to basics. “Black-and-white photography is all about shadows and highlights,” notes Floyd. “It’s simple and timeless, while color can feel dated.”
• Dress in neutral tones. Avoid black, white, stripes, and bold patterns to look stylish
in black-and-white photos. Skip the crisp, new European outfit and cap. “Newborns and children have delicious skin,” enthuses Floyd. “You don’t want to cover them up.” Go for simple play clothes.
• Ditch the props—especially a gumball machine, a rocking chair, Mommy’s high heels, or a boa. “They don’t mean anything to you and your family,” says Floyd.
• Choose film, not digital. “Digital can’t rival a hand-printed photo on thick, fiber-based paper,” Floyd insists.
See more tips on the following slide.
Tips on Taking a Better Family Photograph
• Avoid posing kids. “They’ll look like pipe cleaners,” warns Floyd. “And stiff kids don’t look like themselves.” You’re after spontaneous action. The best shots happen when everyone relaxes.” But relaxed doesn’t mean serene. Nothing says kid power like movement and action.
• Never say “cheese.” Clown around—bark or make other animal noises. At Classic Kids, one person shoots and another quacks. “The kid wrangler works for smiles to avoid the deer-in-the-headlights look,” explains Floyd. (See hilarious awkwardfamilyphotos.com.) Remember, a thoughtful look can reveal as much as a smile. Go for an expression or gesture, Floyd advises.
• Select a clean, white, seamless paper background without images. Featureless backgrounds help to focus attention on the people.
Photographs courtesy of Classic Kids Photography