The selfie didn’t start with social media — it’s just the next evolution of portraiture, an art form that goes back centuries. (Scholars actually estimate that portraiture goes back at least 5,000 years ago to ancient Egypt.) Before the invention of photography, the only ways to capture the likeness of a person was through paintings, sculptures, and drawings. As these records became an elevated art form, portraits were more common for the prominent and powerful, especially more fanciful works that heightened their beauty and appearance. However, some artists chose to create portraits of everyday people (especially if they were friends or family).
Due to the popularity of portraiture through the years, it’s easy to find exquisite examples of portraiture to integrate into your décor. Perhaps this is why the art form has become a trend in collecting and design recently, despite virtually everyone having the capacity to take hundreds of portraits in a single day through their smartphone. For variety, try grouping a “family” of portraits in a room, or display an individual portrait among large-scale accessories that draw the eye to the piece.
If you’re looking to start your own collection, take a look through these timeless portraits available now at Sotheby’s Home:
Why we love it: This 19th-century pastel drawing depicts an elegant figure at an even more elegant event. Created by Clément-Auguste Andrieux (born 1829), the work was initially at Sotheby’s in 1982.
Why we love it: This oil-on-panel work is from the Old Masters Period, and is a more classical example of portraiture. Regal and refined, this depiction of King William III also has a truly eye-catching gilt frame.
Why we love it: Dating back to the mid-17th century, this oil-on-panel work depicts a beautifully dressed woman from the circle of Sir Peter Lely. The carved wood frame further emboldens this elegant portrait.
Why we love it: Not all portraiture has to be a drawing or a painting. This late-20th-century work by Texas and Western artist Covelle Jones translates a portrait into a three-dimensional sculpture.
Why we love it: While the above examples of portraiture take a more traditional approach, this oil-on-canvas work by Ryonosuke Fukui (1923-1986) shows a more modern approach to the form.