Famous Portrait Artists

Famous Portrait Artists – Fifteen Formidable Portraitists

Portrait painting is regarded as one of the most prominent painting styles in the arts. In theory, painting portraits allows for a more accurate portrayal of a person by emphasizing certain physical characteristics as well as possible academic or religious qualities. Who are the most famous portrait artists though, both in history as well as contemporary portrait artists? This article will attempt to bring you up to date on the most famous portrait painting artists throughout the ages, as well as notable modern portrait painters.



Our List of Famous Portrait Artists

During the early 20th century, some art historians predicted that portrait paintings would become obsolete. They claimed that by this time photographers would have already discovered something about portraiture in a greater sense beyond what the normal artist was able to capture, and painters would no longer be interested in mastering the art of painting portraits. History, on the other hand, has consistently proven them wrong.

Painters started to revisit figuration in the 1980s and 1990s, pushing the age-old genre of painting portraits into uncharted territory.


Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Date of Birth15 April 1452
Date of Death2 May 1519
Place of BirthAnchiano, Italy

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance scientist, innovator, and artist. He is one of history’s most talented and intelligent people. Because of da Vinci’s many skills and abilities, the term Renaissance Man was conceptualized, and he set the benchmark for subsequent creatives. While little is known about da Vinci’s childhood, his father was wealthy and married multiple times.

Portrait Paintings and Drawings Presumed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1512; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From around 14 years of age, he became Verrocchio’s trainee, where he discovered to paint, sketch, and perform other tasks. Due to two of his most popular artworks, The Last Supper (1498) and The Mona Lisa (1503), he is regarded as arguably one of the finest artists in history.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

Portrait Paintings Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo (between 1503 and 1506) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669)

Date of Birth15 July 1606
Date of Death4 October 1669
Place of BirthLeiden, Netherlands

Rembrandt van Rijn was born on the 15th of July, 1606, the son of a modestly wealthy miller in Leiden, Holland. He received excellent tuition, starting his education at the Latin School and then enrolling at the University of Leiden when he was around 14 years of age. He quickly departed to pursue art with Jacob van Swanenburch, and then a bit later on with Pieter Lastman, sheer boredom. He took his first students when he was only 22 years old, one of whom was the famous Gerrit Dou.

Portrait Painting Artists Self-portrait (1659) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1631, he then moved to Amsterdam, where he generated popular mythical and religious artworks. Just after the Protestant Reformation, neighborhood congregations no longer paid artists commissions in the same way that the Catholic church did in other countries. As a result, artists were forced to concentrate on private commissions. Rembrandt quickly established himself as a painter of historical subjects.

Rembrandt, exceptionally, did not heed the directions given to young artists to travel to Italy and study Italian art firsthand. Rather, he believed that he could understand everything he needed to know from the art that was available in his home country.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • The Night Watch (1642)
  • Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653)
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son (1669)

Group Portrait Paintings The Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675)

Date of BirthOctober 1632
Date of DeathDecember 1675
Place of BirthDelft, the Netherlands

In 1632, Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer was born Delft to a slightly lower-class family. His father was a cloth weaver who later became an art dealer.  His mother, who could only sign an ‘X’ on the marriage license, was an uneducated housewife. Vermeer had become his father’s assistant painter when he was a teenager, and his early career is thought to have been influenced by Carel Fabritius. Vermeer then went on to become the head of the Guild of St. Luke in 1662, exposing him to a slew of Delft painters, patrons, and collectors, initiating his Mature Period.

Outside of Delft, Vermeer’s few works – roughly 35 – were little known.

Top Portrait Painting Artists The only supposed portrait of Johannes Vermeer, from his painting The Procuress (1656); Johannes Vermeer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Many of his works of art are thought to be focused on the collection of a patron in that community who appears to have had a close relationship with the painter. Nevertheless, when Vermeer died, he was heavily indebted, in part due to the fact that his art-dealing business had incurred during the Dutch economic downturn in the early 1670s. Vermeer died of depressive episodes and insanity in December 1675.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

Top Portrait Paintings The Milkmaid (c. 1660) by Johannes Vermeer; Johannes Vermeer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

Date of Birth30 March 1853
Date of Death29 July 1890
Place of BirthZundert, Netherlands

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most well-known post-Impressionist painters, used color as his primary means of expression. His father was a reverend, so his childhood was filled with culture and religion. He was a particularly emotional child who battled with self-identity and appears to lack self-confidence and orientation as a child.

He thought his life’s calling was to be a pastor, so it took him years to realize his true artistic potential.

World Famous Art Portraits Self-portrait with grey felt hat (1887) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Van Gogh gradually realized that he wanted to be a painter between 1860 and 1880. He then went to Paris in 1886 to study further with Pissarro, Gauguin, Monet, and Cormon, where he refined his technique. His best works were completed in less than three years, and he died in 1890 from a self-inflicted shotgun wound.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889)
  • Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)
  • Dr Paul Gachet (1890)

Top Famous Portrait Artists Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)

Date of BirthJanuary 1856
Date of Death15 April 1925
Place of BirthFlorence Italy

In January 1856, John Singer Sargent was born into a modest family in Florence, Italy. His elegant portraits offered a glimpse of Edwardian-era society when the fortunate and wealthy from Europe and the United States flocked to his London workshop. Sargent came to the United States for the first time in 1876 and became a citizen almost immediately. He was often regarded as a rather serious and somewhat reserved man who liked to draw.

Before coming to America, he began studying in Paris with Carolus-Duran, a well-known society portraitist. Sargent started experimenting with Impressionist techniques during this period.

Famous Portrait Paintings of Artists Self-portrait (1906) by John Singer Sargent; John Singer Sargent, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1879, he traveled to Madrid to investigate Diego Velazquez’s masterpieces, then on to the Netherlands to be motivated by the artworks of Frans Hals. Portrait of Madame X, a depiction of Madame Gautreau, a notorious Parisian beauty, was unveiled by Sargent in 1884. Sargent’s artworks captivated the English public, and he went on to become a well-known painter in the United States. Sargent spent the remaining years painting Alpine and Italian landscape frescoes in watercolor in the early 1900s. He passed away on the 15th of April, 1925, in London, England.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Portrait of Madame X (1884)
  • Portrait of Dorothy Barnard (1889)
  • Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892)

Famous Art Portraits Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1883-1884) by John Singer Sargent; John Singer Sargent, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918)

Date of Birth14 July 1862
Date of Death6 February 1918
Place of BirthBaumgarten, Vienna

Gustav Klimt, an artist from Austria and the originator of the Vienna school, established his own workshop in 1883 after having studied at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts. Klimt’s early artworks were done in a classical style, which was popular at the time and can be seen in murals such as the Vienna Burgtheater.

His aesthetic started to mature in 1897 when he established the Vienna Sezession painting school, which instructed the popular Art Nouveau aesthetic.

Most Famous Portrait Artists Photographic portrait of Gustav Klimt, 1914; Josef Anton Trčka, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Klimt produced three murals for the roof of the University of Vienna auditorium shortly after it opened, which were highly controversial due to their erotic imagery and negativity. As a consequence, both the public and the school rejected the murals.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1908) are two of Klimt’s most successful works, depicting his precise treatment of the human form without shadowing, emphasizing the sensuality of skin by enveloping it with extremely ornamental, flattened, and magnificently composed segments of adornment.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Judith and the Head of Holofernes (1901)
  • Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902)
  • Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907)

Famous Portrait Paintings Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (Adele Bloch-Bauer I) (1907) by Gustav Klimt; Gustav Klimt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

Date of Birth25 October 1881
Date of Death8 April 1973
Place of BirthMalaga Spain

Pablo Picasso is perhaps the most iconic figure of the 20th century, best known for establishing Cubism and rupturing the two-dimensional picture plane to express three-dimensional space. He influenced the rise of Expressionism and Surrealism by drawing inspiration from Iberian and African art.

Picasso’s oeuvre expanded to over 20,000 paintings, lithographs, illustrations, statues, and theater and costume designs.

Famous Portrait Painting Artists Portrait photograph of Pablo Picasso in front of his painting The Aficionado (Kunstmuseum Basel) at Villa les Clochettes, Sorgues, France, summer 1912; Anonymous Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

From 1925 to the 1930s, he was involved in Surrealism, and the Spanish Civil War of 1936 had a significant effect on his artwork. In response to the Spanish Civil War, he created Guernica (1937), a painting that has become a primary influence on anti-war art.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Seated Harlequin (1901)
  • The Old Guitarist (1904)
  • Self-Portrait with Palette (1906)


Grant Wood (1891 – 1942)

Date of Birth13 February 1891
Date of Death12 February 1942
Place of BirthIowa, United States

Grant Wood, one of the most prominent exponents of Midwestern Regionalism, was born in 1891 close to Anamosa, Iowa, and grew up trying to capture the quintessential Midwestern lifestyle. Wood, a trained designer, and painter spent a year at the Academie Julian de Paris before returning to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to produce a stained-glass window. He journeyed to Germany to pursue guidance despite his lack of knowledge of the substrate.

He was strongly influenced by the paintings of 16th-century Flemish and German masters while in Germany. He then decided to abandon his Impressionist aesthetic and began painting realistically and in great detail.

Modern Portrait Painters Self-Portrait (c. 1925) by Grant Wood; Grant Wood, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Although a few of his early artworks were unnoticed, American Gothic (1930) had become a success in 1930 when it was displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood was a pioneer of the Regionalists throughout his life. Wood joined the University of Iowa system as an associate professor of fine arts in 1934. Until his death in February 1942, he proceeded to paint scenes from American history and rural Midwestern vistas.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • American Gothic (1930)
  • Daughters of Revolution (1932)
  • Parson Weems’ Fable (1939)

Art by Modern Portrait Painters American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood; Grant Wood, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)

Date of Birth6 July 1907
Date of Death13 July 1954
Place of BirthCoyocan, Mexico

Frida Kahlo demonstrated a strong sense of individuality and defiance as a child, defying traditional moral behavior patterns and social norms. She was appreciative of her Mexican heritage and culture, and she was moved by sensuality and passion. Her life was marred by physical adversity, beginning with polio at the age of five and culminating in a bus accident in 1925 that resulted in severe injuries.

Throughout her life, she underwent 32 surgical procedures.

Relatively Modern Portrait Painters Frida Kahlo, 1932; Guillermo Kahlo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As a result, many of her works were created from her bed, where she drew inspiration from an individual perspective, multiple operational processes, and miscarriages. As a result, her works were categorized by human suffering and depictions of pain. She died of a pulmonary embolism on the 13th of July, 1954.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

Self-Portrait Paintings Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) by Frida Kahlo; Ambra75, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992)

Date of Birth28 October 1909
Date of Death28 April 1992
Place of BirthDublin, Ireland

Francis Bacon, widely regarded as the person who kept British figurative artwork alive and well, was confronted by the supremacy of conceptual and abstract art. His tormented figures arose from Surrealist influences, the majority of which came from Picasso’s works. His well-known Screaming Popes disrupted portrayals, and crucifixions are absolutely phenomenal and unmistakably different from other artists of the time. He was born in Dublin in 1909. His father was a retired Military Major who bred and properly trained horses.

Bacon had a tumultuous childhood, moving from one country house to another in Ireland and England. Despite his father’s efforts to reform him, his burgeoning homosexuality contributed to his disassociation from him.

Contemporary Portrait Artists Portrait of Francis Bacon (1960) by Reginald Gray; Reginald Gray, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During WWII, Bacon functioned in civil defense, which had a massive effect on his art. Due to his dissatisfaction, Bacon damaged much of his previous work, but Three Studies (1944) exemplifies the triptych format, which depicts anguished and contorted figures in an abstract space. Bacon died in 1992 while on a trip to Madrid, leaving behind innumerable works of art that are now housed in museums all over the world.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Three Studies for a Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963)
  • Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach (1964)
  • Study for the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965)


Elizabeth Peyton (1965 – Present)

Date of Birth1965
Date of DeathN/A
Place of BirthDanbury, Connecticut

Elizabeth Peyton, one of our more contemporary portrait artists, was a pioneer in the 1990s and early 2000s resurgence of figuration in modern painting. Her portraits of the world of art figures and celebrities delve into the themes of youth, fame, and beauty. At the same time, the artworks are profound yet modest.

Peyton allows the viewer to gain a better comprehension of his or her yearnings, deceits, and anxieties by constructing a level of intimacy, which is discreetly mirrored in the depicted subjects. Her portraits are associated with late-20th-century American culture.

Among others, she has painted Lady Diana, Kurt Cobain, and Noel Gallagher. Peyton would not normally know the people she was portraying on a personal level. For her portraits, she would use pictures from books, magazines, album covers, and music videos as templates.

What matters to her is a person’s life path and how inspirational it is to others.

Peyton has lived and taught in Germany for over five years. In 2017, her painting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel graced the cover of Vogue in the United States, portraying her as a potent, yet very human and personable figure.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Ben (2014)
  • Sid Vicious Arrested (2018)
  • David Bowie (2021)


Amy Sherald (1973 – Present)

Date of Birth30 August 1973
Date of DeathN/A
Place of BirthColumbus, United States

One of our more modern portrait painters, Amy Sherald was the first black artist, along with Kehinde Wiley, to make a contribution to an actual presidential portrayal to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. She was also the first Afro-American woman to portray the First Lady. All through her career, Sherald has primarily attempted to investigate notions of identity and legacy.

She employs portraiture to tell unexpected stories with the goal of repositioning the black legacy in the history of American art.

“I’m painting the works of art I want to see in museums,” she explained, “I want to see something other than a black body on a canvas.” Sherald is best known for her stylized realism, which depicts her subjects as vividly dressed people delivered in grayscale skin colors against oversaturated backgrounds.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake (2009)
  • The Boy With No Past (2014)
  • The Make Believer (2016)


Craig Wylie (1973 – Present)

Date of Birth1973
Date of DeathN/A
Place of BirthZimbabwe

Craig Wylie’s work aims to capitalize on the possibility of still-life and figure artwork in the 21st century. The Zimbabwe-born artist is best known for his hyper-realistic portraiture, but he is also interested in color and texture. He produces everything from reality but chooses and rearranges his subjects based on his very specific intentions.

Wylie’s art is meticulously planned and, in some ways, very intellectual. While he meticulously planned and executed his work, the end result always conveys a sense of spontaneity.

The artist claims that he does not use photographs as frameworks for his portraiture, other than as a kind of sketchbook. As a result, the exact reproduction of one photograph in paint was never part of his plan. As a result, we must regard Wylie as an artist who likes to think profoundly and effectively about his work.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • AB (Event) (2010)
  • LC (Mountain) (2010)
  • AB (Prayer) (2013)


Shadi Ghadirian (1974 – Present)

Date of Birth1974
Date of DeathN/A
Place of BirthTehran, Iran

Shadi Ghadirian, a contemporary photographer from Tehran, is interested in the role of women in a 21st-century society that appears to be stuck between tradition and modernity. Her portraiture focuses on the inconsistencies that occur in everyday life, faith, censorship, and women’s social standing.

She is well-known for combining traditional photography methods with contemporary mixed media strategies to highlight the complexities of Iranian society and history.

Ghadirian achieved international acclaim in 1998 and 2001 with the series Qajar and Like Every Day, respectively. She depicted women in Iran in her remarkable series Be Colourful (2002), displaying them obstructed by panes of material and paint, making reference to the customary mirror artwork of the Qajar dynasty.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:

  • Be Colorful (2006)
  • My Press Photo #4 (2008)
  • Nil, Nil #10 (2008)


Kehinde Wiley (1977 – Present)

Date of Birth28 February 1977
Date of DeathN/A
Place of BirthLos Angeles, United States

Kehinde Wiley, a half-Nigerian, half-Afro-American artist, specializes solely in portraiture. He is well-known for using the compositional style and accuracy of Old Masters to elevate his historically marginalized black subjects. He’d use bright backgrounds influenced by leafy patterns or motives found on conventional textiles.

Wiley’s work is also known as Bling-Bling Baroque due to the fact that he merges classic techniques with an eye-catching, modern style.

Wiley famously portrayed Michael Jackson as King Philip II (2009) in the classic tradition of an equine portrait. He depicted the female protagonist in Judith and Holofernes (2012) as a black individual holding a white-skinned head in her fingers. Wiley depicted his version of one of art history’s most popular motifs to protest the white supremacist movement. Wiley’s primary goal, however, is not to generate controversy and instigation. His depiction of juxtapositions is motivated by his wish to aggravate conceptions of group identity.

A few of the artist’s most well-known artworks include:


Today we have explored the various portrait painting artists that have gained fame from their portrait paintings throughout history. We have also looked at some of the more contemporary portrait artists who currently continue to carry the flag of the art form. These classical, as well as modern portrait painters, have managed to capture so much more than just the physical appearance of their sitters, but something of their essence as well.



Take a look at our portrait artists webstory here!



Frequently Asked Questions


What Are Portrait Paintings?

Portrait painting is one of the most popular styles in the arts. Painting portraits, in theory, allows for a more accurate portrayal of a person by emphasizing certain physical characteristics as well as potential academic or religious qualities. Painting portraits is a type of art in which the main focus is on a human subject.


Who Are Some Well-Known Portrait Painting Artists?

Many of history’s most famous artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, experimented with portraiture. Rembrandt van Rijn, the 17th-century Dutch painter, may just possibly be the finest master of group portraiture, while Frida Kahlo, a 20th-century Mexican painter, is the most well-known artist of self-portraits. A detailed understanding of physiology and light, as well as an interest in how people register feelings, are frequently important factors in actualizing a successful portrait.


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Famous Portrait Artists – Fifteen Formidable Portraitists.” Art in Context. May 13, 2022. URL: https://artincontext.org/famous-portrait-artists/

Meyer, I. (2022, 13 May). Famous Portrait Artists – Fifteen Formidable Portraitists. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/famous-portrait-artists/

Meyer, Isabella. “Famous Portrait Artists – Fifteen Formidable Portraitists.” Art in Context, May 13, 2022. https://artincontext.org/famous-portrait-artists/.

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