The UK’s world class status for portraiture must be the long term draw for commissions but this flurry suggests something else is happening. One theory is that the convergence of the low value of the pound, together with the ease of communication and travel explain this trend.
We believe that the export of the British art of portraiture to the USA is underestimated because so many of the portraits commissioned through the Royal Society of Portrait Painters are private and cannot be publicised. This phenomenon is echoed in the United States. Barbara Dayer Gallati, for example, writing in Fine Art Connoisseur, notes that this genre remains under the media radar owing to the frequently private circumstances governing commissions.
Many of the portraits commissioned from around the world are created from live sittings. Either the subject has their sittings when they are over in the U.K. or the artist flies out to the sitter. Other portraits have been created from photographs because the sitter is elderly, short of time, unable to travel or deceased. As a charity dedicated to the art of portraiture, we embrace the trend in international patronage and provide a portrait consultancy service to make the commissioning process easy and enjoyable in order to encourage this phenomenon.
He was interested in commissioning a portrait of his late mother from a small black and white photograph because “She was among the last of the greatest generation, whose grit, grace and glory was forged by hardship, by war and triumph. Their virtues and her virtues are being lost to this world. In a small way, I want to keep those virtues alive with memories, words and imagery.”
Whilst this is a private commission, American institutions frequently commission British Artists. The Union Club in
New York, for example, took a lot of trouble to survey both American and British artists before selecting Paul Brason for the portrait of Eric Widing, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s New York. In this case sittings took place in the artist’s studio as well as in New York at the Union Club.
There was a time when the American portrait-painter crossed the ocean to enjoy the favourable climate for patronage, John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler being eminent examples, but now it is the patron from the U.S. who is commissioning the British-based Artist.