Tintin and Portrait Painting

Professeur Tournesol - Hergé

The cutting above, from one of Hergé’s Tintin books, brings to mind the saying ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest’. Poor Captain Haddock never really cries victory in his battle with the bottle and I wonder if ever I will do so in my struggle with portrait painting.

In the piece, the portrait of Professor Calculus seems to come to life and start talking to the startled captain. I have had almost the same experience but without the help of a bottle of Loch Lomond; every now and then at an exhibition I come across a superb portrait where the sitter appears to be alive and on the point of coming out of the canvas to say something. Below are some of these portraits.

Family Portrait, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas, 113.5 x 93.5cm, 1621, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Family Portrait, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas, 113.5 x 93.5cm, 1621, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

For me, it is the father’s face which is startlingly alive in this group portrait.

Double Portrait of Lucas and Cornelis de Wael, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas,120 x 101cm, 1627, Musei Capitolini, Rome

Double Portrait of Lucas and Cornelis de Wael, Anthony van Dyck, oil on canvas, 120 x 101cm, 1627, Musei Capitolini, Rome

This time, the younger brother on the right…

Catharina Hooft and her nurse, Frans Hals, oil on canvas, 86 x 65cm, 1619 - 1620, Gemaeldegalerie, Berlin

Catharina Hooft and her nurse, Frans Hals, oil on canvas, 86 x 65cm, 1619 – 1620, Gemaeldegalerie, Berlin

Here, the nurse (the child looks too knowing to be believable).

The Laughing Cavalier, Frans Hals, oil on canvas, 83 x 67.3cm, 1624, Wallace Collection, London

The Laughing Cavalier, Frans Hals, oil on canvas, 83 x 67.3cm, 1624, Wallace Collection, London

Self-portrait, Piers Paul Rubens, c. 1628-1630, oil on canvas. 61.5×45 cm, Rubenshuis, Antwerp

Self-portrait, Piers Paul Rubens, c. 1628-1630, oil on canvas. 61.5×45 cm, Rubenshuis, Antwerp

Now why do I have a feeling of immediacy with these portraits in particular, rather than with others by the same artists? There are, I think, several reasons.

  • The sitters are looking straight at the viewer with the head slightly to one side which is an intimate and conversational pose
  • The backgrounds are dark and contrast sharply with the subject, amplifying the focus.
  • The portraits are quite detailed, well executed and with an almost exact likeness.

And here is my attempt at a similar look. At least with my choice of model I feel I have the advantage.

Vera Hyblova, centre midfield, oil on canvas, 70 x 60cm, 2014

Vera Hyblova, centre midfield, oil on canvas, 70 x 60cm, 2014

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