We see the world through our eyes, the world around us is so vast and ready to be discovered that at times it can seem so overwhelming. It can be said that we are so busy living our life the way we want we at times forget the people around us that make life worth living. The culture that surrounds us, that is a huge part of society started and has existed ever since we could remember, nowadays it seems almost foolish to think of people who were so relevant 50 or 40 years ago not being relevant today. These people are now considered legends, icons and relevant part of history, not because they will be forgotten with time, but because they did something that moved society and the culture with it forward, they used whatever talent they had at their disposal to each their names in history, and their image will not be easily erased it from the public’s mind. But what about the people who do not do anything that society deems memorable or worthy to be deemed famous, the majority of people who go across life without having the talent to sing well, act amazingly, or paint majestic paintings are sometimes put to the side and forgotten as people who are not worthy of such fame. Most people will not go on to paint masterpieces by the age of 10, or play musical instruments with such virtuosity that they will go on to write acclaimed compositions with amazing skill, nor will they remembered by most in 100 years time, but what they do to be remembered by the people that the matter to them, the way they impact a small number of people lives whether it is by being a great father, a loving grandmother, a hard worker, or even as simple as a stranger who always said ‘good morning’ and had a smile in their face every day. The people who are represented in the following portraits are people you more than like have heard of; they were musicians, artists, kings, and a result of civilization letting them down and having to endure in the harshest of times.
The Beatles, or ‘The Fab Four’ were an immensely popular group out of Liverpool, England that was comprised of four man group made up by Paul Mccartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. They started their group at the beginning of the 1960s with their four man group already set they focused on writing great music that would become a sensation for them in the UK turning them into local celebrities, but once their music found its way to the US via a DJ playing one of their songs on the radio they were an instant hit overseas. It is no secret that once ‘Beatlemania’ hit the US there was no stopping it, the four young faces were almost instantly recognizable and left a lasting impression in pop culture, they transcended whatever barriers the 60’s had, they did not play in front of segregated crowds and in fact became important activists later in life. Their move and instant success in the US prompted other bands from the UK to find success in the States as well once they toured America; it is not fair to say that the Beatles were the better band out of their contemporaries at the time like The Rolling Stones, or The Who, or The Beach Boys, but they were certainly the most popular. Their popularity and fame spanned the entire length of the 60’s, and in that tune they toured around the world, found time to star in movies, and write many albums which are nowadays considered to be among the finest works of music ever to be recorded. After the release of their newest album in 1965, Help!, the Beatles toured the U.S. performing nineteen shows and songs from their newest record, this tour however would prove to be too exhausting and frustrating for the Beatles, as the noise from the crowd was to loud to hear what they were playing, their growing resentment toward their label, and the frantic tour schedule was starting to wear on them, that is why the concert on 29 August 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California would be the Beatles last ever concert and they would only ever be an in-studio band, meaning that they would still release albums but they wouldn’t perform them live. One morning Klaus Voormann got a call from John Lennon, Klaus was a friend of the band while they were staring in Hamburg and Liverpool, and the Beatles were busy working on an album that would later be known as ‘Revolver’, John asked Klaus if he had any ideas for a cover and after hearing what the band had been playing Klaus figured that the album cover for this new record had to reflect the type of avant-garde music that the band had produced, and so Voormann made a Grammy-winning album cover that reflected the type of music and feeling that the band had in 1966. What happened after the albums release in ’66 marked a shift in the bands’ way of playing music, their covers are now instantly recognizable, and they were pioneers in making sure that their art and album covers reflected the kind of people they are at the time. This prominent use of album covers as art prompted a rise in artists suddenly adopting more psychedelic art ocevers, and legitimized album covers as just as stimulating as the music that it held inside, even famous artists started working with bands to create album covers; the most famous example being Andy warhol making the album cover for The Velvet Underground’s first album, the cover? A drawing of a banana.
Elvis. Warhol. Names that are synonymous with being huge pop-culture icons and immense celebrity status. “EIGHT ELVISES” is a 12-foot painting that has all the virtues of a great Andy Warhol: fame, repetition and the threat of death. It did not leave the home of Annibale Berlingieri, a Roman collector, for 40 years, but in Autumn 2008 it sold for over $100m. That sale was a world record for Warhol and a benchmark that only a handful of artists have ever achieved. Warhol’s collection of art is huge. It consists of about 10,000 artworks made between 1961 and 1987, before he died suddenly at the age of 58. Most of these are silk-screen paintings portraying anything from Campbell’s soup cans to Jackie Kennedy, drag queens and Mao Zedong. Warhol also made sculpture and many experimental films, which contribute greatly to his legacy as an innovator. In 2007, at the height of the boom, auction sales of his work added up to $428m, the highest turnover of any artist. Warhol’s importance as a pop-culture symbol is immense. He is not just famous; he has been a dominant influence on many of the most successful artists today. He redefined the role of the artist as a “creative director”—more of an architect than a craftsman—who is acutely aware of the media resonance of his art. In 1968 Warhol was shot in the chest and nearly died. For several years he produced very little art. When he returned to work, it was to paint one of the world’s most famous men, China’s Chairman Mao, with a “vigour and momentum previously unseen,” claims Neil Printz, co- author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné. The vertical reach of the Warhol brand is so vast that it makes the span of the most successfully diffused fashion house, from eau de cologne to haute couture, seem positively squat by comparison. That seems appropriate for an artist who merged high and low like no other. It seems that Warhol was OK with not being compared with other artists, his work was not meant to evoke an emotion from the viewer the way a Van Gogh, or a Dali would, his art was called pop-art and it was unlike any visual art seen before it, it blended art with celebrity, seemingly meeting it half-way.
The early 17th century was marked by unrest and near constant warfare; however, by the mid seventeenth century, France had emerged as Europe’s largest and most powerful country. France, under Louis XIV, was an absolute monarchy where full power resided with the king. As an absolute monarch, Louis was not subject to any constitutional limitations, leading him to declare “l’etat, c’est moi” (“I am the state”). Louis ruled by divine right, receiving his authority directly from God. The concept of divine right allowed Louis to quash emerging rebellions while establishing legitimacy. Louis became known as the Sun King, furthering his claim of divine lineage by recalling the ancient Greek god Apollo and declaring himself, in his usual modest manner, to be the center of the universe. Recognizing the importance of propaganda, Louis and his advisors embarked on many large-scale projects, most memorably the expansion of Versailles from a rather unassuming hunting lodge to an enormous, gilded and mirrored palace. Versailles reinforced the image of the Sun King and infused the Baroque style with classical elements, visually linking Louis’ rule to the might of Imperial Rome. As the leading patron of the era, Louis XIV employed a workshop of artists and architects; Hyacinthe Rigaud became the principal painter to the king. Rigaud’s monumental portrait displays a life-size, full-body depiction of Louis XIV. The composition recalls Anthony Van Dyck’s 1635 Charles I Dismounted. Louis, as the focal point, stands in the center of the canvas, his body angled slightly while his face is turned to meet the viewer with the confidence and directness expected from a king. Billowing embroidered silk curtains form an honorific canopy over the King’s head while the lavish carpeting creates an opulent environment worthy of the king’s presence. To the left, a marble column sits atop a gilded base, symbolizing the strength of the monarch while again recalling the classical era. Louis’ pose, like Charles’ before him, allows him to literally look down on the viewer, despite both monarchs being quite short. As royal portrait painters, both Rigaud and Van Dyck were able to assert the dominance of the monarch by carefully creating the illusion of height; to please their patron, royal painters often opted for idealized elements at the expense of realism. Despite the similarities in their portraits, Louis met a happier (or at least far less grisly) end than Charles I who was beheaded in 1649. Like Versailles, nothing in Louis XIV is understated; every detail was intended to remind the viewer of the supremacy of the monarch and his divine authority. Louis, dressed to the nines, is bedecked in his coronation robe. Even the materials of the robe reinforce the image of the monarch; the black-and-white ermine fur and the blue-and-gold fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily, are symbolic of the French monarchy. Rigaud paints Louis with a royal sword fastened to his hip, the precious materials contributing to the extravagant atmosphere while also symbolizing his military might. In his right hand, Louis holds the royal scepter while the crown rests on the table below, just in case there were any lingering doubts that this Louis was a pretty important fellow. Louis’ hair cascades down his royal robes—representing a still youthful and robust king. In official royal portraits, there was constant negotiation between historical accuracy and the ideal form. How exactly to render Louis’ hair sparked an intense debate on more than one occasion: should the hairstyle be accurate, the king presented as he actually looks, or should concessions be made so that the regal qualities of the king might be more readily apparent? Like with Louis’ height, royal painters had to strike a balance between an identifiable and recognizable portrait and one that idealized the sitter to meet the patron’s desired result. Similarly, Louis’ legs, which Rigaud has cleverly and prominently displayed, are rather well defined for an aging king. Louis’ advancing age, he would die fourteen years after this portrait, is betrayed by his lined face, slight jowls, and double chin; the king was reportedly in ill health and had to have several teeth extracted due to infection. It is no coincidence that Louis is posed with his majestic robe draped over his shoulder to reveal his lower limbs: Louis had been a ballet dancer in his youth and prided himself on his dancer’s legs. The legs, while in contrast to his aged face, suggest a vital and vigorous man, still in the prime of his power. Rigaud tempers the monarch’s timeworn face by reminding the viewer of Louis’ athletic past; the heeled shoes are not only flattering but add several precious inches onto Louis’ height. Here, Louis is identifiable clearly the portrait is of the king in the later years of his life yet also idealized, his well-toned legs and lustrous hair preternaturally preserved. Rigaud’s portrait, originally commissioned as a gift for Louis’ grandson, Philip V of Spain, was so well received that Louis ultimately chose to keep it and sent a copy in its place. Rigaud so successfully captured power of Louis XIV that the image was placed over the throne and in the king’s absence, the painting served as his proxy and courtiers were forbidden to turn their backs on the painting.
Michelangelo is widely regarded as the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance. Painter, sculptor, architect and poet Michelangelo is considered one of the most famous artists of the Italian Renaissance, with works including the “David” and “Pieta” statues and the ceiling paintings of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was an artist that was seemingly born to be an artist. Born to a family of moderate means in the banking business, Michelangelo became an apprentice to a painter before studying in the sculpture gardens of the powerful Medici family. What followed was a remarkable career as an artist, recognized in his own time for his artistic virtuosity. Though Michelangelo’s brilliant mind and copious talents earned him the regard and patronage of the wealthy and powerful men of Italy, he had his share of detractors. He had a contentious personality and quick temper, which led to fractious relationships, often with his superiors. This not only got Michelangelo into trouble, it created a pervasive dissatisfaction for the painter, who constantly strived for perfection but was unable to compromise. He sometimes fell into spells of melancholy, which were recorded in many of his literary works: “I am here in great distress and with great physical strain, and have no friends of any kind, nor do I want them; and I do not have enough time to eat as much as I need; my joy and my sorrow/my repose are these discomforts,” he once wrote. In his youth, Michelangelo had taunted a fellow student, and received a blow on the nose that disfigured him for life. Over the years, he suffered increasing infirmities from the rigors of his work; in one of his poems, he documented the tremendous physical strain that he endured by painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Political strife in his beloved Florence also gnawed at him, but his most notable enmity was with fellow Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci, who was more than 20 years his senior. Unlike many artists, Michelangelo achieved fame and wealth during his lifetime. Appreciation of Michelangelo’s artistic mastery has endured for centuries, and his name has become synonymous with the best of the Italian Renaissance. Although he always considered himself a Florentine, Michelangelo lived most of his life in Rome, where he died at age 88. Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564 just weeks before his 89th birthday at his home in Macel de Corvi, Rome, following a brief illness. He was laid to rest at the Basilica di Santa Croce, his chosen place of burial.
The photograph that has become known as “Migrant Mother” is one of a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in 1936 in Nipomo, California. Lange was concluding a month’s trip photographing migratory farm labor around the state for what was then the Resettlement Administration. Lange took five pictures. One of them, “Migrant Mother”, became the iconic photo of the Depression, and one of the most familiar images of the 20th century. With her children cowering behind her for protection, hiding their faces, the Migrant Mother gazes distractedly into the distance. At the time, the dust-blown interior of the United States was full of families like hers, whom poverty had forced off their land and into a life of wandering. Their poverty was total; they had nothing. Where is her husband, the children’s father? She is on her own. There is no help, no protection, and nothing over the horizon but work, want and more wandering. Her worried, vacant expression seems to communicate what we, at our end of history, already know: Things were not going to get better for a long, long time.There are few images as deeply ingrained in the national consciousness as “Migrant Mother”. Yet for decades, no one knew what had become of this woman and her family. No one even knew her name: Lange never asked, and by the time the photo appeared in a local newspaper, the woman and her family had moved on to the next town. “I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.” She had one of the most famous faces in the United States, yet, to keep her family together, she had to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. “I worked in hospitals,” Thompson told NBC in an interview in 1979, “I tended bar, I worked in the field, so I done a little bit of everything to make a living for my kids.” Thompson profited nothing from “Migrant Mother”. “I can’t get a penny out of it,” she once said, but she wasn’t exactly bitter. She had posed for the photo to help others, not herself, yet the disparity between her high profile and low status couldn’t help but bother her. The Thompson clan, which eventually grew to 10 children, worked their way into the middle class, but Florence Thompson never felt comfortable in a conventional home. Even after her children bought her a house, she chose to live in a trailer. “I need to have wheels under me,” she said. In 1983, Thompson had a stroke. Her children, unable to pay the hospital, used her identity as the “Migrant Mother” to raise $15,000 in donations. She died soon after her stroke. A few years earlier, a reporter had asked Thompson about the life she eked out for her family. She spoke plainly, with no sentimentality. “We just existed,” she said. “Anyway, we lived. We survived, let’s put it that way.” During the Great Depression, that was never a guarantee. “We never had a lot,” said McIntosh, her daughter, “but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate.”
It seems that behind every one of these fascinating portraits there is an even more fascinating story behind them, what makes portraits so captivating to look at is that whether they’re paintings or photography the artwork always seems to beautifully capture the persons very human nature. It cannot possibly tell the entire story of that person, what happened to Florence Thompson before and after her picture was taken is not shown in the picture, but with that brief snapshot you can see so much emotion in her eyes that the draw you in just waiting for you to hear her story. Sometimes portraits are just meant to represent the ideal picture of oneself, almost as if you worry that you will be forgotten with time, so you pose with your best clothes to show your royalty, even if you are king of France your very image might only be remembered by a painted portrait of you, so you must look your best. Sometimes your artistic legacy will be defined by your artwork and not what you looked like, you might let your art speak for yourself and not let the trappings of fame get to you, not letting yourself pose for any self-portraits, but instead let others remember you and even paint portraits of you because your art inspired so many after your death. Everyone experiences their own personal struggles, and even if you never see the same level of fame as a Warhol or Lennon your portrait is just as important as theirs, art is meant to be appreciated and provide an account of our history for generations to come, the world is made up by people whose story is never told, they go forever unrecognized, a portrait is a brief snapshot