According to Wikipedia, a portrait is "a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person." Portrait painting has been the preeminent medium of representing historical figures since the Egyptian pharaohs four thousand years ago. One could argue Australian Indigenous figurative rock portraits predate those of ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, the purpose of portraits is to provide an important contextual and historical record, capturing a moment in time, like a photograph, for future generations to appreciate and remember people and ages past.
"Wandjina, Wunnamurra Gorge, Kimberley Ranges, W.A." (Aboriginal Rock Art dates back 28000 years)
One of my favourite questions I like to ask people; “If you could have one artist, dead or alive, paint your portrait, who would it be?” For me, the answer is easy; Australian artist, William Dobell. His portrait of Joshua Smith was a pioneering, evocative, modernist portrait that won the 1943 Archibald Prize. So controversial was his depiction, he was taken to court, and almost stripped of his award having been accused of producing a caricature as opposed to a portrait. Dobell won the case and was able to rightfully keep his award, though ironically the portrait was later accidently destroyed beyond repair in a fire. His portraits are dramatic, beaming in colour, form and capture the true personality and quirkiness of the sitter.
"Portrait Of Joshua Smith" (1943) - William Dobell (Winner of Archibald Prize, 1943)
Buying and selling portraits on the secondary market is a difficult concept, because a portrait needs to be of someone famous or by someone of note to create value. For example, the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo Da Vinci is one of those rare priceless artworks, which does not actually have a secondary market value for the fact it will never be sold. For insurance purposes however, if it were stolen or destroyed, the picture is purportedly insured for $US1billion. The highest price paid for a portrait of a living person, by a living person was Brett-Livingstone Strong’s portrait of Michael Jackson, "The Book" (1990) which sold to a corporation in Japan for $US2.1million. At Belle Epoque Antiques, we are lucky to have a wonderful early, significant work by Strong of the Sydney Opera House, exhibited in 1972, and viewed and praised personally by Queen Elizabeth II.
"Mona Lisa" (1503) - Leonardo Da Vinci "The Book" (1990) - Brett-Livingstone Strong
I rarely buy portraits for the fact the majority circulating the secondary market are by strangers, of strangers. Who wants some unknown person on your wall staring at you from across the room? Even if the portrait is completed by a well-known artist, it is a fine line between something valuable or something will little resale value. The following acquisition to the gallery is not of someone famous, nor is it by someone famous. But the artist has an important place in the history of Australian art.
Florence Turner Blake (nee Greaves)
Florence Turner Blake (nee Greaves) was one of Julian Ashton’s first students at his Sydney Art School. A skilled painter, she regularly exhibited with the New South Wales Society of Painters from 1896 into the 20th century. Through her connection with Ashton, she met Tom Roberts, who at the time was one of Australia’s premier Impressionists and one of the founding members of the famous Heidelberg School of painters. Blake, who at the time was known by her maiden name, Miss Florence Greaves, became close friends of Roberts, and immediately became a muse for two of Roberts’ most recognizable portraits. “Portrait of Florence” (c1898) is a gorgeous representation inspired by the Italian Renaissance, using delicate, restrained palette contrasting the stoic, passive demeanor of the sitter.