What is so significant about portrait paintings or the art made by famous portrait painters?
Portraiture is such an artwork that requires immense talent to reflect not just the face of the subject, but also the spirit of the painter.
And we have some famous portrait painters who have indeed done an awe-inspiring job at producing some of the best portraits.
“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights I am away from you.” – Frida Kahlo
Portrait painting is an act of immortalizing events, moments and aesthetics, with focus on the facial expressions that convey a million things.
How many famous portrait painters do you know about?
I have curated a special list of famous portrait painters, and I am sure some of them will surprise you!
Get set, because you are in for a treat!
Table of contents
- 1. Leonardo da Vinci
- 2. Rembrandt van Rijn
- 3. Johannes Vermeer
- 4. Berthe Morisot
- 5. Vincent van Gogh
- 6. John Singer Sargent
- 7. Gustav Klimt
- 8. Edvard Munch
- 9. Pablo Picasso
- 10. Grant Wood
- 11. Tamara De Lempicka
- 12. Frida Kahlo
- 13. Francis Bacon
- 14. Elizabeth Peyton
- 15. Amy Sherald
- 16. Shadi Ghadirian
- 17. Kehinde Wiley
- Author Says Hi
- Frequently asked Questions
1. Leonardo da Vinci
How can I not start without the great maestro himself, Leonardo da Vinci!
He is one of the most famous portrait painters amongst the Renaissance artists, and has in fact contributed a lot to the art world.
Where do I even begin with da Vinci?
His famous paintings, Mona Lisa and Salvator Mundi are known to have shook the world on many levels to this date.
In fact, did you know that Salvator Mundi is one of the most expensive paintings to be ever sold?
Mona Lisa, to this day, reigns in the Louvre Museum in Paris, being the center of attraction of all art lovers.
But what was so special about Leonardo’s paintings that they gained all this attention?
The great maestro was an exemplary portraitist; he knew how to move people through his portrait paintings!
Mona Lisa’s face and facial expressions are still debated about to this day.
Salvator Mundi was also known to be one of the most controversial paintings because of how Jesus’s face was painted.
See, the faces he painted made all the difference.
Here the focus is not on what people talked about, but the mere fact that his portraits affected billions of people!
2. Rembrandt van Rijn
Born in 1606, Rembrandt van Rijn grew up to be one of the most famous Dutch portrait painters!
Like many exceptional famous painters, Rembrandt also found his art at a very young age of 14.
He was only 22 when he started taking in students to train under him.
Rembrandt’s paintings mostly surrounded mythical and religious themes of which he created artwork from.
He is also one of the famous self-portrait painters whose depiction of his own self is outstanding!
One look at them and you could almost feel those eyes talking to you!
One of his most famous and talked about paintings is The Night Watch.
The facial expressions depicted in this painting are almost unbelievable.
Because even though there are so many characters in the painting, Rembrandt gives each and every face a life-like aura, especially the angel-like figure!
Can you imagine owning such a spectacular painting?
Well, you definitely can own its replica now through PortraitFlip!
3. Johannes Vermeer
One of the famous portraitists, Johannes Vermeer, was not an artist that gave a lot to the public.
He preferred a mysterious life, but he definitely conversed a lot through his artwork, especially his famous portrait paintings!
One of his most discussed paintings is the Girl With a Pearl Earring, whose exact story is still a mystery.
There are also strong speculations that the mysterious girl’s painting is not in fact a portrait, but a tronie, which is “face” for Dutch!
Now, when we look at his most famous portrait painting, we cannot avoid the incredible The Milkmaid which again has a deeply engraved meaning within it.
Many of Vermeer’s paintings are known to be some of the most touching art pieces, but his portraits will always stand out!
4. Berthe Morisot
This french painter and artist is again a very unique woman from our list of famous portrait painters!
Berthe Morisot, born in 1841, showcases a certain sense of sophistication and glamor in her famous portrait paintings.
Morisot was born into an artist family, her grandfather was one of the Rococo painters, Jean-Honore Fragonard.
This famous portrait artist was also closely associated with several Impressionist artists, with whom she even exhibited her artworks.
Morisot, too, has created several impressionist artwork, from which many of them consist of her portrait paintings.
Some of her best portrait paintings are The Cradle (1872), Woman at Her Toilette (1880), and The Mother and Sister of the Artist (1869).
There is a sense of soft femininity, domesticity in these paintings.
At the same time, these portrait paintings hold a deeper meaning.
Their facial expressions and features, their body language and gestures, their clothing.
Morisot had her signature style to weave stories!
5. Vincent van Gogh
The art world would not be the same without Vincent van Gogh and his paintings!
Undoubtedly Vincent van Gogh is definitely one of the most famous portrait painters of all time!
This famous portrait artist’s signature style, painting techniques and his exemplary perceptions.
If you notice, van Gogh had created so many portrait paintings of himself, each signifying something very deep from his life.
But how does his portrait paintings have this certain very unique significance?
Well he is not one of the world’s best portrait painters for nothing!
He is one of the famous self portrait painters because of the uniqueness he carries from his brushstrokes to the hues he uses in his paintings!
His portrait paintings have often displayed despondency, misery and mental and physical strugglings.
6. John Singer Sargent
We also have this Italian-American painter in our list of famous portrait painters!
John Singer Sargent’s portraits were recognized to be graceful paintings that depicted the Edwardian Age society.
He had many from high society coming to him in his studio to get their portrait in painting done by him.
Sargent is one of the famous portraitists whose work still influences the art community across the globe.
His art technique and precision when it comes to creating facial features is commendable and one of a kind.
Some of his best works include Portrait of Madame X (1884), Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892), and Mrs. Louis Raphael (1996).
As you can see, all of them are women subjects and not just any women, but high class society, wealthy women.
Apart from the subjects, I really find it fascinating how he beautifully captures a woman’s beauty.
One look at their faces and their sharp features will keep you allured for hours!
7. Gustav Klimt
If you are all about glitz and glamor, then this is one among the famous portrait painters whom you will love!
Gustav Klimt is known for creating his golden paintings which also include some very famous portrait paintings.
Portrait paintings by Klimt have procured a lot of attention for being aesthetically and technically unique!
Why so? Have you seen Klimt’s Golden Lady?
Or the infamous erotic portrait painting of Klimt, The Kiss?
What’s the common link between all these paintings?
They were all created using gold foils and filled with shimmer.
So alluring, so tempting and yet so expressive because of the portrait artist’s techniques.
The most fascinating thing about this portrait artist’s paintings is that they are more than the golden element in them.
This famous portrait painter’s artwork is extremely expressive, even through all the decorative elements!
8. Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch was an extraordinary artist and one among famous portrait painters.
This expressionist artist is known for channeling inner human agony into his paintings.
There has also been speculation and theories about how The Scream painting is in fact the painter’s famous self-portrait.
How is that? Because this particular painting is known to come from Munch’s personal memory, when he suffered from what seemed like an anxiety attack.
Another famous portrait painting by Munch is the Melancholy which represents Munch’s close friend, Jappe Nilssen.
The painting is intended to express Jappe’s frustration and despair that came out of the free love practice.
The scenery, Jappe’s facial expression, his head sadly resting on his hand, and his whole posture screams melancholy.
Even the shades used by Munch depict his intention of showing Jappe’s sadness.
9. Pablo Picasso
Next in the list is none other than the father of Cubism himself, Pablo Picasso!
If you look at the paintings by Picasso, you will see how he is an exceptional portraitist.
Picasso is one of the most famous portrait painters whose art technique on portraiture holds a wide range!
This tremendous artist has different artistic periods in his life where he produced different kinds of art.
Through all these periods, Picasso has produced exemplary portrait paintings!
Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906), Woman with a Fan (1907), Celestina (1904), are just a few among his long list of portraits.
If you notice, most subjects of his portrait paintings have been women and Picasso is known for having all kinds of relationships with several women.
10. Grant Wood
This American painter is also one of the most famous portrait painters.
Grant Wood, born in 1891, grew up to be one of the major contributors to the Midwestern Regionalism movement, which happened in the 1930’s, in the United States.
Wood’s most famous portrait painting is undoubtedly the American Gothic (1930), which now resides in The Art Institute of Chicago.
This famous portrait painting was intended to focus on the rural American values with a positive note.
The portrait painting gained its popularity as it acted as a sense of reassurance when they were going to be hit by the effects of the Great Depression.
Because of the time period he was in, he is also considered to be one of the best contemporary portrait painters!
11. Tamara De Lempicka
This female portraitist is known to be one of the most famous portrait painters of the Art Deco period!
Tamara de Lempicka was yet again one of the portrait artists who was a favorite among the high class society.
If you closely look at Lempicka’s portraits, you’ll notice how each one of them is filled with elegance and a sense of sophistication, from the brushstrokes to the hues used.
This famous female painter was a born artist, and was introduced to art at the young age of 12.
There is an interesting story here.
Lempicka’s mother wanted her daughter’s portrait painted when she was 12.
When the portrait was done, Lempicka was so disappointed with the painting and believed that she could do much better than the artists who painted her.
This is how she started drawing and painting portraits and fell so much in love with it that it became a crucial part of her life!
12. Frida Kahlo
Now we have a personal favorite- one of the most phenomenal and famous portrait painters, Frida Kahlo!
Frida Kahlo lived a phenomenal life as an artist, and was infamous for the one of a kind self-portraits she created to tell her story.
She is one among the famous self-portrait painters who captured pain, loss, passion, bravery, and desires through her artistic skills and color use.
Some of Frida Kahlo’s famous paintings include, Self-Portrait with Thorn and Hummingbird (1940), The Wounded Deer (1946), Thinking About Death (1943).
These are of course only a few to name, because this Mexican Artist outdid herself in the art community.
Her paintings transcends normalcy, or just beauty for the eyes, because it is always a matter of a deeper meaning.
13. Francis Bacon
This expressionist artist is also one among the most famous portrait artists from our list.
Francis Bacon is also known for his immense contribution to gay erotic art that usually showcased sex, violence and death.
Many of his portrait paintings can be dark, eerie themes with a twist of his own mental expression.
Bacon’s portrait paintings give off a very unsettling feeling with its unsymmetric, distorted faces.
His artistic style is famous for layering different colors onto exaggerated features.
This is often done by exaggerating his own facial features into the painting.
He is a famous self-portrait artist who experimented with his own facial features from different angles and art techniques!
14. Elizabeth Peyton
We have yet another talented artist from New York, who is also one among the famous portrait painters we are discussing here about.
Elizabeth Peyton is an extraordinary modern portrait painter whose art captured many hearts!
Her paintings were infamous for capturing portrait artists, other painters, writers, musicians and actors.
Her female portraits have a sense of separation and despair hidden within it.
Even her male portraits have something in common; the facial expression!
The face structure, closed-in eyebrows, and straight focused eyes gives the viewers a whole different experience.
If you’d ask me, I would say all I see is a certain sense of dismay and loneliness in the subject’s eyes!
15. Amy Sherald
This spectacular portraitist is a female black contemporary artist whose artwork has been creating new waves in the community!
Amy Sherald’s portrait paintings focus on bringing up the inequality and discrimination faced by the black community.
Her rebellious voice is channeled through her drawings and her portrait paintings; especially allures the viewer into the deep meaning of it!
Some of her most famous portrait paintings are Equilibrium (2012), Miss Everything (2016), A Single Man in Possession of a Good Fortune (2019), etc.
These are just a few from her tremendous collection of portrait paintings!
Fun fact: Did you know that it was Amy Sherald that painted Michelle Obama’s infamous portrait called, “First Lady Michelle Obama”, back in 2017.
Sherald was also the first woman and the first African-American woman to win the prestigious Outwin Boochever Portrait competition!
16. Shadi Ghadirian
Next in line in the list of famous portrait painters is an extraordinary artist, Shadi Ghadirian.
This Iranian contemporary artist is brilliant for creating portrait paintings with her photography that holds a really strong message.
Ghadirian’s artwork focuses on being the voice to women’s issues in the highly patriarchal world.
This series of abstract portrait paintings shows women behind tinted glasses with solemn expressions of pain, numbness and misery.
Apart from her portrait paintings, her photography also focuses on being a voice for the women and community she represents.
Her artwork is definitely one of my favorites! What about yours?
Suggested Read- 16 Paintings of Women: Artistic Look At Women Through History
17. Kehinde Wiley
For the last one in our list of famous portrait painters, we have the incredible artist, Kehinde Wiley!
One among the most famous black artists of all time, this portraitist has moved millions of hearts with his skills!
Wiley’s most famous portrait painting is the former US President, Barack Obama’s portrait art!
Wiley’s portraits capture the audience because of his stylistic techniques and use of bold colors.
The subjects for Wiley’s portrait paintings are always African-American men, with highly patterned and colorful hues, wearing the latest fashion trends!
Wiley’s portraits always convey a very strong political message, always round the representation of people of color in the art community.
Some other famous paintings of Kehinde Wiley are Judith Beheading Holofernes (2012), Femme Piquee par un Serpent (2008), and Portrait of Mickalene Thomas, the Coyote (2017).
Suggested Read: Harlem Renaissance (Migration Story of 200,000 Black People)
Author Says Hi
I hope you enjoyed reading this piece that I definitely loved writing.
I thank you for your time and patience!
Do not forget to reach out to us, our comment sections always welcome you.
Until the next time,
Frequently asked Questions
Amy Sherald, a famous portrait artist, is the one who painted Michelle Obama’s portrait.
Vincent van Gogh is known for having painted the most self-portraits.
Pablo Picasso, the father of Cubism is known for creating several portrait paintings using the Cubism technique.