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Portrait drawings are any artistic representation in a traditional drawing medium that focuses on the human face and its expression. Traditionally, the illustrations were intended to educe intangible qualities of their subject, such as their mood or personality. Portrait drawings for most of art history typically illustrate biblical figures or wealthy patrons or royalty who commissioned artists to draw their likeness.
Since the majority of these works were commissioned, the artists were expected to portray their subjects in a flattering light. However, some artists such as Hans Holbein and William Hogarth stayed true to their artistic vision, often rendering subjects as they perceived them without any complimentary embellishment. The early American artist Thomas Eakins continued this tradition of unflattering portraiture, often depicting subjects, including his wife, in a straightforward manner with dour expressions and ashen skin tones.
The tradition of portrait drawing appears as vibrant today as ever before as artists such as Elizabeth Peyton evolve the timeless genre. The emotions behind facial expressions are a perennial fascination of mankind, making portraits, including the Mona Lisa, some of the most prized art objects ever produced.
Francis Bacon, the esteemed 20th-century English artist, incorporated elements of abstraction into his portrait drawings including "Seated Woman" from 1961
In 2015, The Morgan Library in New York City presented an exhibition titled "Life Lines: From Dürer to Picasso." The exhibition demonstrated the diversity of aesthetic orientations and artistic approaches that have been employed in creating portraits
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s "Head of an Apostle" drawing sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for $47.9 million, making it the most expensive portrait ever sold at auction