Famous Portrait Paintings from Middle Ages to Modern


Jan van Eyck was a 15th century Flemish painter considered to be an early innovator of oil painting techniques. Portrait of a Man in a Turban (1433) is a good example of van Eyck’s mastery at achieving deep hues. Do you dig that turban?

mona lisa

Almost everyone recognizes the mysterious smile in Leonardo da Vinci ‘s most famous portrait, Mona Lisa (1503-1505). Leonardo (don’t call him “da Vinci” – that just means he’s from Vinci, a region of Florence) achieved the smile by shadowing areas around her eyes and mouth, an effect that came to be known as “sfumato,” or Leonardo’s smoke.


Fast forward to the 18th century and we arrive at another much-loved portrait, The Blue Boy (1770) by English painter Thomas Gainsborough, standing at nearly six feet tall. Notice how much light the artist lends to the boy’s face and apparel compared to the background. Many formal portraits below follow a similar technique.

george washington

American painter Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington (1805) is celebrated for its natural quality, looser brushstrokes, and simple composition.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a French artist, was renowned for the intimacy of his portraits, which captured everyday moments and introduced a softness not seen in earlier portraiture. Lise Sewing (1866) is a good reminder that informal images can make great portraits, too.


We love this elegant work, Emma at the Piano (1914), by American painter George Bellows. The subject’s posture and the stark contrast in lighting make this a very striking image.


Chuck Close is an American painter known for pioneering photorealism in his iconic massive portraits. Here is a 1969 painting Phil of the composer Philip Glass that is 9 feet tall! Can you tell this is a painting?

We hope these portraits from across the centuries inspire you to have your very own masterpiece created by our artists!

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