Portrait special

It’s easy enough to ignore the genre of portrait painting in the age of the camera, but the best examples do plenty apart from that. David Hockney carries on the tradition in his new show at the National Portrait Gallery, but it isn’t hard to find interesting portraits on elsewhere. Here are three…

Rembrandt: Agatha Bas, 1641 (above)

The Queen’s Gallery exhibition of art collected by George IV includes this: unusual for Rembrandt in its play with space such that the fan and left hand appear to intrude beyond the picture, usual in the conviction and empathy of the characterisation. As Prince Regent, George ran up debts equivalent to over £30m in today’s money, but it wasn’t all wasted. And if you’ve ever wondered what a partlet is – Agatha is wearing one over her shoulders.


Nicolaes Maes: Portrait of a Young Man, possibly Simon van Alphen of Leiden, c 1677.

One of Rembrandt’s most successful pupils has a show at the National Gallery. Here he makes the most of the luxuriant hair which was a la mode for men at the time, combining it – anachronistically I suppose – with an imagined antique costume. The original frame (walnut veneer decorated with gilded tin floral ornaments) is also of note.


Francisco de Goya: Doña Isabel de Porcel , before 1805

This is hanging in Room A of the National Gallery, effectively the reserve collection where scores of paintings are crowded in together. Not bad for a reserve, you might think, looking at how the black lace of her mantilla is handled. It’s probably down there because of doubts about its attribution.  But does that really diminish the bravura?

Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head

About Paul Carey-Kent

Art critic and curator, based near Southampton. I write most regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, Elephant, State, Photomonitor... and, of course, FAD.