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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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Alexej Jawlensky Artwork
Jun 07, 12:00 PM AEST
Alexej Jawlensky Artwork
by Sydney Rare Book Auctions
Est: AUD400- AUD500
AUD3753 Bids
AMRITA SHER-GIL (1913-1941) DUTCH LADY UNTITLED, SIGNED BOTTOM
Jun 06, 1:00 PM BST
AMRITA SHER-GIL (1913-1941) DUTCH LADY UNTITLED, SIGNED BOTTOM
by Plakas Auctions
Est: £15,000- £25,000
£152 Bids
ILIA GLAZUNOV
May 28, 1:45 PM CEST
ILIA GLAZUNOV
by Wannenes Art Auctions
Est: €50- €70
€602 Bids
French School, 18th Century Portraits of Fashionable Gentlemen (two drawings)
May 22, 10:00 AM EDT
French School, 18th Century Portraits of Fashionable Gentlemen (two drawings)
by Hindman
Est: $400- $600
$3002 Bids
Franz von Defregger (Stronach, Osttirol 1837 - München 1921)
May 31, 6:00 PM CEST
Franz von Defregger (Stronach, Osttirol 1837 - München 1921)
by Bozner Kunstauktionen
Est: €500- €650
€5001 Bid
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KARL MEDIZ (Vienna 1868 - 1945 Dresden)
May 28, 3:00 PM CEST
KARL MEDIZ (Vienna 1868 - 1945 Dresden)
by Widder Auctions
Est: €200- €400
€2001 Bid
Augustus Edwin John (1878 - 1961) England
May 26, 1:00 PM EDT
Augustus Edwin John (1878 - 1961) England
by Coral Gables Auction
Est: $100- $20,000
$1001 Bid
CLAUDIO BRAVO PORTRAIT EINES JUNGEN MANNES (1957)
Jun 01, 10:00 AM CEST
CLAUDIO BRAVO PORTRAIT EINES JUNGEN MANNES (1957)
by Hargesheimer Kunstauktionen Düsseldorf
Est: €1,200- €2,400
€1,2001 Bid
Arthur Watts Clark Pastel Painting By Leslie Emmet
Jun 01, 10:00 AM EDT
Arthur Watts Clark Pastel Painting By Leslie Emmet
by Mebane Antique Auction
Est: $100- $10,000
$501 Bid
MUCHA ALFONS (Czech / Bohemian, French 1860-1939) - Portrait of a girl
May 27, 8:00 PM CEST
MUCHA ALFONS (Czech / Bohemian, French 1860-1939) - Portrait of a girl
by Einszwei Gallery
Est: 0 Kč- 0 Kč
40,000 Kč1 Bid
§ Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)
May 23, 10:00 AM BST
§ Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)
by Cheffins
Est: £600- £800
£4801 Bid
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Framed pastel, etc.
May 30, 10:00 AM EDT
Framed pastel, etc.
by Barry S. Slosberg Inc
Est: $20- $30
$51 Bid
Traditionnellement attribué à  Paul Flandrin (1811-1902). 
Jun 06, 2:15 PM CEST
Traditionnellement attribué à  Paul Flandrin (1811-1902). 
by Alde
Est: €200- €300
€2001 Bid
Alvaro Monnini (Italy,1922-1987) pastel painting
Jun 16, 11:45 AM EDT
Alvaro Monnini (Italy,1922-1987) pastel painting
by Broward Auction Gallery LLC
Est: $320- $425
$101 Bid
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GEORG MERKEL* (Lvov 1881 - 1976 Vienna)
May 28, 3:00 PM CEST
GEORG MERKEL* (Lvov 1881 - 1976 Vienna)
by Widder Auctions
Est: €150- €300
€1501 Bid
Jean Mary Bellette, Australia (1908-1991), Portrait Sketch, Pencil & wash on paper
Jun 09, 2:00 PM AEST
Jean Mary Bellette, Australia (1908-1991), Portrait Sketch, Pencil & wash on paper
by Theodore Bruce Auctioneers & Valuers
Est: AUD300- AUD500
AUD1401 Bid
George MINNE (1866-1941)
May 26, 2:00 PM CEST
George MINNE (1866-1941)
by Stanley's auction
Est: €1,000- €1,500
€8001 Bid
Elizabeth O'Neill Verner (American/South Carolina)
May 30, 2:00 PM CDT
Elizabeth O'Neill Verner (American/South Carolina)
by Neal Auction Company
Est: $3,000- $5,000
$2,0001 Bid
Hackl, Gabriel von | 1843 Maribor an der Drau, Slowenien - 1926 München
Jun 01, 10:00 AM CEST
Hackl, Gabriel von | 1843 Maribor an der Drau, Slowenien - 1926 München
by GAILER Kunstauktionshaus am Chiemsee
Est: €0- €0
€51 Bid
Antique early 20C American pastel painting
Jun 30, 11:45 AM EDT
Antique early 20C American pastel painting
by Broward Auction Gallery LLC
Est: $240- $300
$100 Bids
Vincenzo Camerlingo 20th century Lot of 2 portraits 1948
May 22, 3:00 PM CEST
Vincenzo Camerlingo 20th century Lot of 2 portraits 1948
by Casa d'aste ARCADIA
Est: €100- €200
€1000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell Portrait Drawings


Alde

Alde

Zisska & Lacher

Zisska & Lacher

Widder Auctions

Widder Auctions

Roseberys

Roseberys