Portraiture – Developing a Standard


Robert Moutrey is a multidisciplinary artist from Manchester, specialising in bespoke hand-painted oil portraits.

Portraiture – Developing a Standard

Personally I believe portraiture sits somewhere between a craft, an art form and a service.

Whether we like it or not, in order to make a living as painters we have to sell something – that something can be our time, our labour, our products or our services. Without being too complacent about the time and labour element, as making/creating a painting takes both, I find that a focus on those two particular approaches results in a cold and disconnected experience for both the painter and the patron i.e. it becomes about the outcome rather than the process.

Similarly, thinking of portraiture as a product i.e. a painting to cover some wall-space, begets the same end result. When paired with the emotional journey of the client in sitting for a portrait, which can be quite overwhelming for some people, the product mentality misses a great opportunity to collaborate and actually establishes an unequal power dynamic between the sitter and the painter that I find uncomfortable.

Thinking of portraiture as a service, I feel, allows both the painter and client/patron/sitter to walk the emotional journey together in conversation. The question “how do you want the portrait to make you feel?” is far more interesting to me to explore with someone then “how do you like this portrait I’ve painted of you?”. Thinking of portraiture as a service then, in effect, is thinking of a holistic process that ultimate results in a painting which can have a far more wide reaching impact then any imposed projection. That, to me, is a way more comfortable proposition for someone who has never sat for a portrait before.

So, as I take the approach of thinking of portraiture as a service, I wanted to develop a set of standards/a framework to help guide the process as well as reducing the amount of variability. One easy way to do this was to limit the sizes of canvas so I started to look into traditional portrait canvas sizes and found the following information on the National Portrait Gallery’s website HERE and it got me very excited.

If you’re interested in the history of portraiture, as an artist or simply just an enthusiast, I’d highly recommend giving the NPG’s site a look over. This information isn’t anything new, far from it, but it’s so comprehensive and made so much sense that historically canvas sizes were based on the material available rather than an abstract ratio or popular concept of aesthetic.

As you’ll see in the attachments, I took this information and made a useful graphic and table to help me template options.




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