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Portrait Drawings

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.


Quick Facts

  • 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

Recommended Items at Auction

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Frida Kahlo hand drawing and signed
Apr 21, 10:15 PM CEST
Frida Kahlo hand drawing and signed
by Novartia
Est: €1,600- €2,000
€1,6007 Bids
DIANA CROOKE (BORN 1954), Mother and Child
Apr 21, 12:00 PM AEST
DIANA CROOKE (BORN 1954), Mother and Child
by Gibson's
Est: AUD800- AUD1,200
AUD1,3005 Bids
ROBERT DICKERSON, PORTRAIT OF A GIRL, PASTEL, 38 X 28 FRAME SIZE 64 x 53cm
Apr 21, 7:00 PM AEST
ROBERT DICKERSON, PORTRAIT OF A GIRL, PASTEL, 38 X 28 FRAME SIZE 64 x 53cm
by Lawsons
Est: AUD3,000- AUD5,000
AUD2,2005 Bids
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JOE BEELER "MORE HORSE TRADIN" CHARCOAL ON PAPER
May 05, 9:00 AM MST
JOE BEELER "MORE HORSE TRADIN" CHARCOAL ON PAPER
by Bradford's
Est: $0- $0
$855 Bids
Françoise Gilot Self-Portrait in Black (G. 1456), 1957
Apr 20, 10:00 AM MST
Françoise Gilot Self-Portrait in Black (G. 1456), 1957
by Larsen Art Auction
Est: $5,000- $8,000
$3,5004 Bids
Dees DE BRUYNE (1940-1998), charcoal drawing Young girl, signed
Apr 22, 6:00 PM CEST
Dees DE BRUYNE (1940-1998), charcoal drawing Young girl, signed
by Maison Jules Veilinghuis
Est: €140- €200
€2604 Bids
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JOE BEELER "MORE HORSE TRADIN" CHARCOAL ON PAPER
May 05, 9:00 AM MST
JOE BEELER "MORE HORSE TRADIN" CHARCOAL ON PAPER
by Bradford's
Est: $0- $0
$204 Bids
Antique 19C French pastel painting signed
May 19, 11:45 AM EDT
Antique 19C French pastel painting signed
by Broward Auction Gallery LLC
Est: $280- $360
$103 Bids
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CLIFFORD BECK JR "NAVAJO WOMAN" PASTEL ON PAPER
May 05, 9:00 AM MST
CLIFFORD BECK JR "NAVAJO WOMAN" PASTEL ON PAPER
by Bradford's
Est: $0- $0
$553 Bids
JUDAICA MALE PORTRAIT DRAWING BY WILLIAM SCHWARTZ
Apr 21, 10:00 AM EDT
JUDAICA MALE PORTRAIT DRAWING BY WILLIAM SCHWARTZ
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$503 Bids
David Burliuk 1960 Charcoal Ink Portrait Drawing
Apr 23, 12:00 PM EDT
David Burliuk 1960 Charcoal Ink Portrait Drawing
by C Biddle Auction Gallery
Est: $10- $1,000
$403 Bids
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WILLIAM AHRENDT "BARNEY OLDFIELD AND THE CACTUS DERBY" GRAPHITE ON PAPER
May 05, 9:00 AM MST
WILLIAM AHRENDT "BARNEY OLDFIELD AND THE CACTUS DERBY" GRAPHITE ON PAPER
by Bradford's
Est: $0- $0
$102 Bids
Eddie "Jack" Jordan (American/Louisiana)
Apr 19, 11:00 AM CDT
Eddie "Jack" Jordan (American/Louisiana)
by Neal Auction Company
Est: $1,000- $1,500
$7002 Bids
David Park, Portrait of Margret Van Horn
Apr 24, 10:00 AM PDT
David Park, Portrait of Margret Van Horn
by Los Angeles Modern Auctions
Est: $1,000- $2,000
$502 Bids
MARY STEVENSON CASSATT AMERICAN BOY PASTEL PAINTING
Apr 21, 10:00 AM EDT
MARY STEVENSON CASSATT AMERICAN BOY PASTEL PAINTING
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$1002 Bids
RUSSELL DRYSDALE (1912-1981), Young Boy
Apr 21, 12:00 PM AEST
RUSSELL DRYSDALE (1912-1981), Young Boy
by Gibson's
Est: AUD1,800- AUD2,500
AUD1,5002 Bids
Attributed to James Martin, Portrait of a Ship Captain
May 01, 12:00 PM EDT
Attributed to James Martin, Portrait of a Ship Captain
by South Bay Auctions Inc
Est: $300- $500
$1501 Bid
AMIET, CUNO: Selbstbildnis.
May 02, 9:00 AM CEST
AMIET, CUNO: Selbstbildnis.
by Dobiaschofsky Auktionen AG
Est: CHF600- CHF1,200
CHF6001 Bid
2pc. Signed Gayle Pen on Paper Portraits
Apr 21, 9:00 AM MST
2pc. Signed Gayle Pen on Paper Portraits
by Monarch Auction and Estate Services
Est: $0- $0
$101 Bid
ROSALBA CARRIERA ANTIQUE FRENCH PASTEL PAINTING
Apr 27, 10:00 AM EDT
ROSALBA CARRIERA ANTIQUE FRENCH PASTEL PAINTING
by Antique Arena Inc
Est: $100- $150
$501 Bid
Portrait Study Drawing of a Lady Esther Goldenberg
Apr 20, 11:00 AM EDT
Portrait Study Drawing of a Lady Esther Goldenberg
by Kavanagh Auctions
Est: $50- $15,000
$501 Bid

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Drawings


Wannenes Art Auctions

Wannenes Art Auctions

Dobiaschofsky Auktionen AG

Dobiaschofsky Auktionen AG

Artcurial

Artcurial

Shapiro Auctions LLC

Shapiro Auctions LLC