Every single month in The Hammer, art-industry veteran Simon de Pury lifts the curtain on his lifetime as the final art-earth insider, his brushes with celeb, and his invaluable insight into the interior workings of the artwork market place.

When I was expanding up, most of the paintings that were being hanging in my family’s household were portraits of ancestors. Not currently being of royal lineage, none of them ended up painted by fantastic masters. To an impressionable little one, some of them were being outright terrifying. 

But when my passion for artwork awoke as a teenager, I turned fascinated by some of the greatest portraits ever designed in art record. Portraiture has been a key strand in artistic observe by the centuries. The portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Selection epitomized for me the ideal of feminine and inventive magnificence mixed. Ghirlandaio himself can not have been displeased with the portrait he was commissioned to paint in 1488, considering that he place on it a Latin inscription which around translated means “Art, if only you could depict character and soul, there would be no far more gorgeous portray on earth than this just one.” 

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian, 1449–1494), Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, 1489-90, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. Photograph by VCG Wilson/Corbis by way of Getty Visuals.

Some of history’s most poignant portraits have been self portraits by art giants these types of as Dürer, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Goya, Van Gogh, Picasso, or Warhol. “All is Vanity” was a sentence that my mom stored repeating to me when I was increasing up. That expression arrived from King Solomon. Vainness has usually been the most important engine driving self portraits and portrait commissions. It is that motor which currently is at the rear of the phenomenal achievements of social media platforms these kinds of as Instagram or TikTok. The arrival of pictures in the 19th century diminished the need to have for patrons to commission artists to paint their portraits, and the market for the apply dwindled. With time, images became an art kind in its have right and an extra medium by which artists could categorical by themselves. 

A person of my favorite queries to friends is: “If you could have your portrait carried out by any dwelling artist, who would be your best 3 alternatives?” and the adhere to up: “What about for artists of the earlier?” Most men and women have to believe tricky in advance of answering the very first concern, and can only occur up with 1 title or two at most. Answering the second one particular comes considerably much easier. The two most frequently talked about artists in that class are Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol, artists who revived the tradition of portraiture in the 20th century. 

Eric Fischl, Simon and Ahn (2003). Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery.

Eric Fischl, Simon and Ahn (2003). Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery.

Freud took a very prolonged time to entire a portray. His is effective were performed from life, that means that his sitters experienced to pose for hours on conclusion. His adore lifetime was very energetic, and occasionally affairs with some of his female topics would close prior to he experienced had the time to complete their paintings. He categorically refused to do portraits on commission.

In the early 1990s I was leasing a flat in Holland Park, very close to the place Freud had his studio. I would give dinners and would normally consider to have a pleasurable blend of visitors. On one situation, I invited Freud as effectively as Eliette von Karajan, the French widow of the terrific conductor. As soon as he sat down at the table, Eliette instructed him: “I would like you to paint my portrait.” He quickly shot back again: “Never ever would I do that my artwork dictates whom I will paint! Eliette, who is far from currently being a pushover, answered similarly abruptly and it was the start off of a incredibly extreme and long trade. The other visitors stopped conversing and ended up riveted by the skirmish. Several years later on, Lucian would even now talk to me “How is Eliette?” and Eliette would at times mistakenly connect with me Lucian.

With Warhol matters were the exact opposite. From 1968 onwards, he manufactured several portrait commissions. He used the massively common SX-70 Polaroid camera to choose snapshots of his sitters. This took no time at all. His personnel would then make a silkscreen which was employed as the basis for the portraits. In the early 80s the price tag for 1 portrait was $25,000. Anyone who was anyone experienced to have their portrait finished by him.

My possess prime a few possibilities to have my portrait done by a living artist would be: David Hockney, Elizabeth Peyton, and Richard Prince. I beloved the exhibition of 82 portraits done by Hockney at the Royal Academy in London in 2016. Elizabeth Peyton’s oeuvre consists typically of magnificent portraits performed of celebrities earlier and existing. Richard Prince’s Instagram portraits would most likely be the closest equal these days to the modern society portraits Warhol was performing in the 1970s and ‘80s. When you test #selfie on Instagram you see it has been used at the very least 450 million moments. The greatest moi trip for that reason has got to be to have your IG portrait accomplished by Richard Prince. 

But there is a massive snag with my desire list. None of these artists will agree  to do portrait commissions except if you are their near buddy or the Queen of Sheba. Even with my extended aspiration checklist, which would contain Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald—who did the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama—Amoako Boafo, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas, Zeng Fangzhi, as properly as photographers Mario Testino, David LaChapelle and Juergen Teller, it would be in close proximity to unattainable to get a portrait commission out of them.

Anh Duong, <i>Le Bonheur Paralyse mon Esprit</i> (2013). Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

Anh Duong, Le Bonheur Paralyse mon Esprit (2013). Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

I would be difficult pressed to title even 5 good contemporary artists who these days would take on portrait commissions.

Nevertheless, the tables may perhaps be about to flip. There are two exhibitions having location currently of artists who do portraits on fee. Anh Duongh’s initial solo exhibit in Switzerland just opened at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich. Very long an insider suggestion among art fans, she has over the decades built portraits of some of her friends these as Diane von Fuerstenberg and prime product Karen Elson. Her strongest performs, however, are her self portraits. Her penetrating gaze dominates these and they are the 21st century equivalent of Frida Kalho’s highly effective self portraits. She has in the past exhibited in New York at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. This exhibition shows that her most recent operate is her very best, which is an excellent indication for a mid-job artist.  

Henry Hudson, Sean Scully (2021). Courtesy

Henry Hudson, Sean Scully (2021).

The other exhibition is 1 that I have the enjoyment to present. “Henry Hudson—Microcosm,” is at present getting s area in the artist’s East London studio. In which Anh Duong paints oil on canvas, Henry Hudson initially makes use of his iPad to choose a photograph of his sitters. Applying the Procreate application for digital portray he transforms these photos into hanging visuals, which he then prints on different surfaces employing a U.V. flatbed printer. The remaining results are one of a kind operates that have distinctive textures relying on irrespective of whether they had been printed on slate, tile, denim, perspex, or dried flowers. He did the portraits of buddies, artists, curators, dealers, and collectors from the microcosm of the artwork environment. Like Anh Duong, Hudson does get on picked commissions. It will take Hudson even considerably less time to do an iPad photograph than it took Warhol to do a Polaroid shot. The only detail the sitter has to do is to choose the dimensions and the surface on which he desires the completed work to be printed. 

With artists like Hudson and Duong developing a new current market for high quality portraits on fee, the time-honored custom of modern society portraits could be revived once additional in the 21st century. Who will you choose to do yours?


Simon de Pury is the previous chairman and chief auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Firm and is a non-public dealer, art advisor, photographer, and DJ. Instagram: @simondepury

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