Exercise – Commission a Portrait

Memorandum for Portrait Commission

Shortlist of possible artists:

Stanley spencer

Lucian Freud

Tai Shan Sheirenberg

Maggi Hambling



This painting will be a family portrait for a (ficticious) elderly aunt. This portrait has been a commissioned to hang in the family dining room so should be of  a moderate size – approx 70cm by 50cm in oil paint. As this is for a family setting a good likeness is required. I would like my aunt to be shown in a pleasant way. I would not want anything to ugly or distorted.

I would like the artist to concentrate on my aunts love of her family and feature her career as a writer. She could be surrounded by books or shown reading or writing in a notebook. The artist could have some freedom with how they include the books etc. Her grandchild is very important to her and thus this could be a double portrait. I would like the portrait to focus on my aunt (and/ or the baby) with not much detail in the background, perhaps a mostly light background.

I would like it to be an informal 3/4 pose of head and upper body, seated. I imagine her to be sitting, perhaps with a notebook in her hand and child on her knee. They could be looking at each other as if oblivious of the viewer. A secret moment between the two.

My aunt is a writer and always carries her notebook around to jot ideas down. She is often seen with a cup of coffee on her desk which is always piled high with reference books. She enjoys finding out about family gossip and has a habit of tilting her head when listening, it might be nice to include this in the pose.


I began this exercise by thinking of portraits artists from recent years such as Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer and Tai Shan Schierenberg as these are the artists whose work I love. Spencer and Freud can be quite controversial but have done many fond portraits that would be suitable for this commission. Freud painted several portraits of his mother, even after her death.

freud painters mother reading

Freud – The Painters Mother Reading, 1975

I have always loved Schierenberg’s thick impasto faceted style. His skill with brush and paint is inspiring and the textures and variances of light across the angles of the face is inspiring. Despite this though, I think his large scale and cropped formats would be unsuitable for this commission.

All of these artists above can be quite unflattering an as wonderful as they are, I’m not sure I would want a beloved family member to be forever portrayed in this often angular or ugly way. I think I would prefer a softer more flattering approach for this.

Seamus Heaney by Tai-Shan Schierenberg 2004

Tai-Shan Schierenberg – Seamus Heaney, 2004

I love Maggi Hambling’s portraits but she too does not flatter. However, as misshapen as she often portrays her sitters, Hambling seems to inject a sympathetic truth in her work that isn’t in the previous artists. I love her Portrait of Frances Rose, her portrayal of the woman’s enlarged arthritic hands, held on her lap as if painful is quite touching. Nevertheless, for this piece I would prefer something more traditional.

I have decided to go back in time to the 19th century. Pierre-Auguste Renoir may well be something of a chocolate box artist now and could be seen as a twee option but I think for this commission for the home, something which shows the importance of family to the sitter, is more suitable than a less conventional portrait, whose exaggerations or distortions, may jar after a while.

The portrait of the artists nanny (who was also a friend of the family) with his child, inspired me to make this choice. I love the informal setting, their interaction, and the happiness on the faces of the pair. A portrait like this would be a wonderful way to celebrate a loved family member and their relationship with their grandchildren.


Renoir – Gabrielle and Jean, 1895

 Word Count – 667


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s