Heartfelt/Handmade Activities: Portrait Painting
To help the students understand how the self-trained artist painted portraits for
clients in the nineteenth century.
Illinois State museum Web site used:
After viewing the portraits in the 19th Century
Folk Art Gallery, and studying middle
class life in nineteenth-century Illinois, the students will
interview a client (role playing) about the type of portrait
he or she wanted to order and then create a simple indi-
vidual portrait of a client or a miniature portrait.
two 50-minute periods
mats and frames
Discuss in class the portraits in the online unit and other nineteenth-century portraits.
Talk about the composition, the details, the backgrounds. Are they realistic, grand,
classical, simple? Why? How? Where were the portraits hung? What purposes did they
serve? Did people want their favorite objects in their portraits? Did they wear special clothes
for the painting?
Discuss or demonstrate how an artist would interview a prospective client, and how
a client would interview a prospective artist. What things must be made clear before
work begins? [What kind of portrait it is, who (and how much of each person) is in
the painting, how they should be dressed, what objects are included, where the peo-ple
are set (indoors, outdoors), what type of background they want or is possible for
the painter to do (e.g., idealized landscape, drapery, solid color wall)].
Instruct each artist and interviewer (taking turns) to come to a price and conditions
for the painting. Are room and board included if the artist is to stay in the home? How long
must the subject sit and how many times? Will the artists sketch, then go to his/her studio to
paint? Does the price include the cost of materials? A written record or receipt could be a
Heartfelt/Handmade Activity: Portrait Painting,
page 1 of 2