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Portraiture has been around since the dawn of the Renaissance. As a symbol of wealth, it became more prevalent as capitalism took its grip in Europe. Early portraits showed wealthy arts patrons beholding major religious events.
By the 1600s, portrait artists were in high demand. Anthony Van Dyck of Flanders served as court painter to Charles I, and his style influenced oil portrait painters across Europe. In the Netherlands, Frans Hals painted the noble and other conservative patrons who wanted a portrait without ostentatious display.
Naturalistic portraits emerged during the Rococo period. Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits convey the naturalism popular in France with a gentle storm-and-drama edge. Later, more conservative neoclassical portraiture style celebrated scientific understanding of depth and lighting. Portraiture became more and more abstract in the 20th century, such as the work of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
By the 19th century, portraiture was so popular that art critics complained about seeing it too much in the Paris salons
In 2006, Ronald Lauder paid $135 million for Gustav Klimt’s "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer," 1907, and placed it on permanent public display at the Neue Galerie in New York
Artist Chuck Close has re-invigorated contemporary portrait painting images with arrays of colored geometric forms, like a cross between the Pointillist dot and Lichtenstein’s circles