Portraits have always been a popular part of the painting. Before the invention of the photograph, a portrait painting was the only way to capture a person’s image and likeness. In addition, portraits have been used to capture certain ideals and principles onto the canvas, such as beauty, innocence, purity, and freedom, just to name a few examples.
Throughout the ages, portraits have been painted of some of the most important and influential historical figures. These portraits give us a sense of what the person looked like and what they stood for.
One niche within portrait painting which has also always been popular was the painting of women. In many respects, women were treated as second-class citizens throughout history. However, when it came to art, there was no better subject matter than the beauty and grace of the female form.
Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix
The woman known as ‘liberty’ is one of the most famous symbols in Western culture’s history. She is the personification of freedom, and there is even a one-hundred-foot statue dedicated to her in New York City known as the Statue of Liberty.
In Delacroix’s painting, Liberty is the figure that leads the people of France in revolution against their oppressive government. Liberty Leading the People is an artistic commemoration of the French revolution of 1830, when the French people overthrew King Charles X of France.
Liberty is an almost Goddess-like figure, and the symbolism of what she represents is much older than just Delacroix’s epic painting. Barefooted and Bare-breasted, she is the personification of freedom that has been a theme in art for centuries and has featured in many old paintings of women.
Lady with Fan by Gustav Klimt
One artist who was practically obsessed with feminine beauty was Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. Most of Klimt’s paintings were devoted to women in one form or another, many of which were painted in an erotic fashion, which was viewed as highly controversial at the time
Klimt was also known for his beautiful use of lavish color and mesmerizing patterns. Both of these elements are fully displayed in his Art Nouveau movement painting, Lady with Fan- one of the most famous paintings of women. It is similar in style to Klimt’s other most famous paintings, such as The Kiss and The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
In this beautiful painting, the woman is dressed in an oriental-style robe and is holding an oriental-style fan. The icons in the background also have a distinct oriental flavor to them and can be seen as one of the first paintings of the Japonism trend that would begin to take over art in Western culture around that time.
Whistler’s Mother by James Abbott McNeil
Whistler’s Mother is not only one of the most famous portraits of a woman but also one of the most well-known masterpieces ever created. It is one of the most iconic American paintings ever painted and is instantly recognizable to most people. Painted in the style of Realism, the portrait has a hauntingly Surreal quality to it that gives it a uniquely captivating charm.
This portrait differs from most others in that Whistler’s Mother is painted from a side-on view and is sitting. The model in the painting is McNeill’s mother, and the story goes that she stood in for the original model who couldn’t make the appointment.
McNeill had initially planned to paint the model standing. However, his mother was old and was uncomfortable standing for long periods. It is funny how artworks; McNeill was probably frustrated by all these changes and must’ve had low expectations for the piece. Little did he know Whistler’s Mother would go on to become as iconic as it is today.
The Source by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
French Neo-Classical painter Jean Dominque Ingres was an expert at portraying the beauty of the female body. By the time he painted The Source, one of his most famous women portraits, he was in his seventies and was already a well-established and renowned artist.
The Source follows the symbology and motifs popularized by ancient Greek culture. The woman in the painting stands nude and is tipping a water jug over her shoulder. She is picturesque and poetic in her posture as the water flows from her jug.
The woman and the water are supposed to represent the source of life, hence the title. This is just one of several classically inspired portraits the French artist would paint. Another beautiful and famous painting of a woman by Ingres worth checking out is his 1814-piece titled Grande Odalisque. Again, these are just two of many fantastic portraits by this talented artist.
Girl in a Chemise by Pablo Picasso
Spanish Cubist artist Pablo Picasso is well known for his creepy and macabre surrealist distortions of the female face and body. Although Picasso is famous for these twisted shapes, he also painted many other more realistic, yet just as dark, portraits of women.
One such portrait is his 1905 Expressionist period piece titled Girl in a Chemise. In the portrait, a lone woman stands sullen and disheveled with her head looking away from the viewer. She is awash in a sea of grim colors that give a distinct impression of a dark and troubled soul.
The girl’s demeanor and the color composition are said to be a representation of mental health, a tertiary theme within many of Picasso’s paintings. Picasso was a master at portraying the human psyche’s torments, which are in full effect in this wonderfully dark portrait.
So, there you have it- five impressive and famous portraits of women from throughout art history. These are some examples of the beautiful women’s portrait genre; there are many more just waiting for you to find and appreciate for yourself.