Visual Arts

By National Portrait Gallery

A Visual Arts resource designed to support
students and teachers in Years 5 – 7, inspired by works from the National
Portrait Gallery.  Travel through the
collection and see how portraiture can reflect aspects of personal or national identity,
manufacturing processes and technology, as well as art  and storytelling conventions, and historical connections.

Self portrait (circa. 1934) by Stella BowenNational Portrait Gallery

Self Portrait

Artists make self portraits for many reasons, including self exploration, demonstration and practice of skills, experimentation and as a form of autobiography.

Divide (Self portrait) (2011) by Sam JinksNational Portrait Gallery

Sam Jinks’ hyper real works explore ideas of what it is to be human.

Made from a variety of materials including silicon, hair and resin, his sculptures are extremely detailed and time consuming to create.

Divide (Self portrait) (2011) by Sam JinksNational Portrait Gallery

This work is an in-depth study of the artist’s face, which involved long and close scrutiny and depiction of every detail.

Why do you think Sam Jinks has depicted half his face as a skeleton?

How does it make you feel?

CREATE

Close your eyes and touch your face.

What do you feel? Describe the shapes and forms.

Ask a friend to make a drawing from your description.

Maquette for 'Divide' (2011) by Sam JinksNational Portrait Gallery

Sculptors often use maquettes as a way of experimenting and testing their ideas. A maquette helps inform their decision making about scale, materials and finishes.

‘The process to produce most of these works is very similar. They begin as clay sculptures built up over an armature then they’re molded and cast in silicone. Once the cast is cleaned up I then poke the hairs into it and add a little final colour.’

Sam Jinks, Australian Edge
2009

Self portrait with gladioli Self portrait with gladioli by George LambertNational Portrait Gallery

Portraits are often described as being a physical record of someone.

What other qualities do they reveal about the subject?

Let’s explore the conventions of portraiture...

Gesture

Look at George Lambert’s hand.

Why do you think he is holding his hand in this way? What does it say about his character?

Costume

Is he wearing formal or informal clothing?

Large cuffs and lapel, soft velvet fabric – Lambert is wearing a smoking jacket.

What would be the modern day equivalent?

Pose

George Lambert looks like a bit of a show off.

Do you agree? What do you think he is communicating about himself through his pose?

Expression

The expression can reveal something about someone’s character, their feelings and/or their psychological state.

What does the expression on your face say about you now?

Props

Props can help add interest to an image or contextualise a scene. They could also be a symbolic representation of something relevant to the subject.

Why do you think Lambert included the gladioli in this portrait?

Create

Make a self portrait!

Using a mirror, draw or paint your portrait. You could dress up, take on a different persona or change how you present yourself in some way – try a wig, glasses or an exaggerated pose.

You could also take a photo and work from that.

Portrait of Cate Blanchett (still) (2008) by David RosetzkyNational Portrait Gallery

Living Portrait

Artists are always looking for ways to push the boundaries of representation. Video is a more recent medium employed by artists to capture something about the subject using a moving image.

Portrait of Cate Blanchett - Portrait Story (2008) by David RosetzkyNational Portrait Gallery

Here David Rosetzky talks about the creation, process and concept behind his video portrait.

Portrait of Cate Blanchett - still (2008) by David RosetzkyNational Portrait Gallery

How does a video portrait differ from a still photograph?

Portrait of Cate Blanchett - still, David Rosetzky, 2008, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Imagine

Imagine you have been commissioned to make a video portrait for the National Portrait Gallery.

Working in groups choose someone who you would like to be in the Gallery’s collection. The only conditions are that they have to be Australian and living. They could be an actor, writer, musician, sports person, politician etc. or someone from your community who has contributed and made an impact in some way.

You will need to decide what they will be doing, where they will be, and what they will be wearing. You can choose to have sound or not.

Look at examples from the Digital Portrait Award for inspiration.

Storyboard and share your ideas with others.

Betty Cuthbert (2002) by Andrew DalyNational Portrait Gallery

Narrative

Narrative portraits tell a story and can be real, staged or imagined.

Martin Sharp (1986) by Garry SheadNational Portrait Gallery

Where do you think this subject is located?

Can you identify any features in the background?

What do you think has happened or is about to happen?

Martin Sharp was a passionate advocate for Luna Park in a time when its existence was threatened for redevelopment. He was also a collector of amusement park memorabilia.

What elements in the portrait reflect these interests?

Create

Reflect on what is important in your life – your interests, your passions or any concerns. Write these down.

Consider what images/forms you could use to symbolise the things that are important to you. Choose your medium and compose a portrait including these symbols.

Alternatively make a survey and interview a friend or family member. Consider your findings and develop a range of symbols to reflect the interviewee’s interests.

Compose a portrait including some of these symbols.

Dr John Yu Dr John Yu by Ah XianNational Portrait Gallery

Materiality

The quality or character of the material the artist chooses can affect how the artwork is experienced and understood. We call this quality ‘materiality’.

Jasperware medallion of Captain James Cook (1779) by Wedgwood and Bentley (manufacturer)National Portrait Gallery

Make a list of the many art forms that are used to make portraits.

Portrait of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Portrait of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch by Victorian Tapestry WorkshopNational Portrait Gallery

Did your list include ‘tapestry’?

‘Tapestry weaving is a technique in which the design is formed by weft (horizontal threads) which are tightly packed to cover the warp (vertical threads). It differs from needle and canvas work, as a tapestry is woven on looms rather than embroidered or stitched.’

– Australian Tapestry Workshop website

Tapestry weaving is a very labour intensive process and requires great skill.

Portrait of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Portrait of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch by Victorian Tapestry WorkshopNational Portrait Gallery

An interview with Sue Walker and Christopher Pyett from the Victorian Tapestry Workshop about Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and her tapestry portrait.

Portrait of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Portrait of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Victorian Tapestry Workshop, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Create

Take a photo of a friend or family member and print it out on an A4 or A3 size piece of paper.

Cover with a similar sized piece of tracing paper and trace over the image reducing the image to its basic geometric shapes. Trace this image onto a stretched canvas using carbon paper.

This is now ready to be stitched, painted or collaged.

Try using materials you have never used before.

Margaret Robertson (c.1855) by an unknown artistNational Portrait Gallery

Technology

Developments in technology have affected the ways that artists have created portraits from one century to the next. This is particularly pertinent to photography, which in itself revolutionised the means of capturing a ‘likeness’ of someone.

Charles Windeyer (c. 1850) by an unknown artistNational Portrait Gallery

The daguerreotype is an early photographic process developed in 1839. It quickly became popular as an affordable and portable means of capturing an image of a loved one or celebrity.

Emily Spencer Wills (c.1859) by an unknown artistNational Portrait Gallery

Daguerreotypes were usually mounted in frames or special cases to protect them, as the image is very fragile.

Portrait of a child (member of the Robertson family) (circa 1861) by UnknownNational Portrait Gallery

Exposure time for the daguerreotype would vary from seconds to minutes, depending on available light.

To ensure the subject did not move, posing tables or stands were used to support the sitter, often resulting in a somewhat rigid looking portrait.

Lee Lin Chin (2005) by Ingvar KenneNational Portrait Gallery

Photography has come a long way in the last 150 years with portable digital cameras providing greater flexibility for both subject and artist.

Here the typically stern SBS news presenter Lee Lin Chin is displaying a cheekier side together with her signature flair for fashion.

Exercise

Choose a contemporary and historical photograph from the National Portrait Gallery’s website.

Discuss the similarities and differences between these two works.

Consider elements like pose, composition, expression, setting, purpose and scale.

Peace, the Man and Hope (2005) by Brook AndrewNational Portrait Gallery

Symbols

Symbols can tell us more about the person/s in the portrait. Sometimes the meaning is obvious and at other times it is more obscure.

Marcia Langton Marcia Langton by Brook AndrewNational Portrait Gallery

How can symbols be used to add meaning?

Look at all the symbols contained in this portrait and choose the word/s from below that you think best describe Marcia Langton:

Aboriginal Commentator
Activist
Anthropologist
Negotiator
Buddhist
Professor
Geographer
Academic

Did you choose one or two?

Well Marcia Langton is all these things!

Why do you think the artist portrayed Marcia with so many arms?

Does it remind you of anything?

During conversations between Marcia Langton and Brook Andrew, the idea of the goddess Kali came up.

Marcia Langton, process image (2009) by Brook Andrew and Trent Walter (printer)National Portrait Gallery

The artist Brook Andrew created this work through a process of screen-printing and collage.

He was assisted by master print maker Trent Walter.

Marcia Langton, process image, Brook Andrew and Trent Walter (printer), 2009, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Marcia Langton, process image, Brook Andrew and Trent Walter (printer), 2009, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Marcia Langton, process image, Brook Andrew and Trent Walter (printer), 2009, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Marcia Langton, process image, Brook Andrew and Trent Walter (printer), 2009, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Create

Choose someone you know well to be your subject. Take several photos of them in different poses. Encourage them to be expressive.

Print out the photos A4 size in black and white. These will be your collage resources.

On an A3 sized piece of paper or cardboard, compose your portrait.

Cut up your photos to create a symbolic portrait, adding symbols that reflect your subject’s interests and personality.

You could use coloured pencils, textas or collage elements.

Self portrait (1999/ 2005) by Tracey MoffattNational Portrait Gallery

Historical Reference

Many contemporary artists are influenced by the styles and processes of earlier art periods.

Professor Penny Sackett, astronomer and physicist (2011) by Andrew MezeiNational Portrait Gallery

Andrew Mezei is inspired by the paintings of 17th century Dutch Masters.

He is interested in replicating the sense of depth the Masters created in their interior settings.

Vermeer

Mezei’s paintings reflect his interest in science and ecological concerns.

Here he has painted Professor Penny Sackett when she was Chief Scientist for the Australian Government.

Explore the image.

What do you see that suggests Penny Sackett is a scientist?

Professor Allan Snyder, David Moore, 2000, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Activity

Look at the National Portrait Gallery’s website and find other scientists in the collection.

Select a few to discuss in small groups.

Compare the variety of ways their profession is revealed through the portrait.

Chrissy Amphlett "Temperamental" Chrissy Amphlett "Temperamental" by Ivan DurrantNational Portrait Gallery

Want to know more about the National Portrait Gallery? About our portraits? The people? Stories about our shared Australian identity?

Explore our online learning resources

Watch our Portrait Stories that feature artists and subjects from our collection

Learn more about our Virtual Excursions

Credits: Story

This exhibit was written by Sally Adair, Learning Facilitator at the National Portrait Gallery.

It was edited and produced by Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator at the National Portrait Gallery.

Thank you to all artists and organisations for permission to include these works.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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