I paint using the sightsize method which means placing the image alongside the subject. When I stand back from the subject and image, I can compare both at a glance and paint more accurately and effectively. Here are some photos of old masters doing just that.
To the left is the British artist, Sir Gerald Kelly (1879 -1972) painting Edith Hulton. Kelly has placed his model seated on a pedestal ensuring that her head is level with his own and can stand back to view his work and the model together. As Kelly demonstrates, using sightsize can produce an accurate likeness.
The photo on the right shows Sargent painting Mrs Fiske-Warren and Her Daughter. Sargent is working in the Gothic room at Fenway Court and has placed a curtain of some sort over a large stained-glass round window to block the direct sunlight which would be distracting. Here Sargent does not place his easel quite alongside the models but he does have his models up on a pedestal like Kelly
In an earlier post, I gave a link to a Youtube video of László painting. In both the video and in this photo, László favours painting with his canvas already framed. Here also he seems to make a lot of use of his mahlstick.
Leopold Seyffert (1887 – 1956) was an American portrait painter who had a successful career painting wealthy bankers. He also painted the renowned tennis player Helen Wills(above). Here again, the pedestal. Seyffert is standing quite close to both model and easel, but the portrait (below) shows a broad handling and a lack of extraneous detail which imply he actually stood further back from the model than the photo suggests. It is also shows that the model is out of pose in the photo.
Henrietta Rae was a British artist of the late Victorian period who gained recognition and success specializing in classical, allegorical, and literary subjects, often treated in a grand style. Here she is painting the portrait of the Marquess of Dufferin. Rae, like most of the other artists in this series, places her model on a pedestal. If you look carefully you will notice that she has painted him sitting slightly straighter than in real life. Either Dufferin had sunk into the pose or Rae was using artistic licence.
Above is Cesare Tallone who studied at the Brera Academy in Milan. The portrait in the photo is painted sight size but smaller than life size. This is done by bringing the easel forward towards the artist. The artist then copies on to the canvas what he sees to the side of his easel. Again we see the model standing on a pedestal.
Above is a photo of Carolus Duran painting the King of Siam. Carolus Duran is perhaps best known for having set up a very successful atelier in Paris where he taught inter alia, Sargent and R.A.M. Stevenson. He paints the king slightly smaller than life size by bringing the easel closer to him than the model (like Tallone above). Again we have a pedestal, and, like László, Duran seems to favour painting with the canvas already framed.
This is Repin painting the Russian historian Nikolai Kareev. He has placed the canvas alongside the model although not quite at the same level and has started painting the shadow shapes of the face during the initial lay-in. The lighting comes from above. Kareev sits on a high pedestal and Repin mixes his paints about six feet away from the canvas.