Within the business world, it is the family business that stands out as the modern patron of portraiture. Not only do they commission for the office environment but they also extend this patronage into the domestic sphere by commissioning a sketch or portrait as a gift or leaving present. A collection of painted portraits can tell the history of both the company and the characters that made it so it is a creative record and a means of communication down the generations.
By patronising the art of portraiture the family business is supporting an important aspect of British heritage. The UK has long been known as an internationally recognised centre for portrait painting. Its special status probably dates back to the Reformation, when a sudden decline in commissioned religious art meant that artists had to diversify into different genres. The timely growth in the middle classes, generated by the concurrent redistribution of wealth and power, provided a perfect opportunity for the portrait painter to ply his trade. In addition to this, the favourable religious climate attracted many distinguished protestant portraitist artists from abroad, with Holbein being one of the first, arriving in 1526.
The Society of Portraiture, www.therp.co.uk, was not formed until 1891, when twenty-four artists, frustrated by the elitist attitude of the Royal Academy, joined together to form a society devoted exclusively to the art and development of portrait painting. Twenty years later this became the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Early exhibitors included: John Everett Millais, John Singer Sargent, George Frederick Watts and James McNeil Whistler to name but a few. It is now a registered charity with Her Majesty The Queen as its Patron representing a cross-section of the best portrait artists of the day. Its eminent members are elected purely on the strength and quality of their work. These distinguished artists are supported by a pool of emerging non-member artists recruited through the Society’s annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in central London. The commissioned portrait is at the heart of their mission, which is to ‘promote the appreciation and practice of the art of portraiture’. To this end, they operate a service to help people with the commissioning process ‘commissioning a portrait should be enjoyable for everybody involved’ says Annabel Elton their head of commissions.
It is not advisable to commission a portrait as a financial investment, even if a portrait can prove fruitful in these terms. Francis Bacon’s three-panel portrait of his friend, Lucian Freud, for example, became the most expensive painting ever sold at auction when it achieved a record price of £89 million in November 2013. Portraits are normally commissioned for reasons of commemoration and esteem. However, unlike a car that deteriorates over time or a classic wine that is gone after you’ve enjoyed it, a portrait will last for generations. Commissioning a portrait may seem like a substantial investment, but defrayed over the years, a good portrait can also represent great value.
Unabashed by the invention of photography, which was supposed to herald the death of portraiture, this ever-fascinating art form has found the digital era a source of new opportunities, not just in terms of perception and visual aids for the artist, but also in terms of communication. Websites allow a patron to see an artist’s work at their convenience and emails allow an exchange of images as well as ideas on an instant basis, allowing work to progress even when artist and sitter are in different countries.
Whether it be for love, esteem, for legacy or for a fascination with the human face, the portrait as an art form goes from strength to strength and the patronage of the family business plays an important role in helping it to flourish.
Geerings, founded in 1903, has been a family business for three generations.
Their portrait of Robert Geering, retiring Chairman, accompanies that of founder Walter Geering. Their portraits reflect their philosophy of ‘A lasting legacy’. Director, William Geering, says ‘it is not all about making a profit’. This philosophy is reflected throughout the business from supporting many good causes and community initiatives to their ‘ we are in it for the long haul’ customer service ethos.
Royal Society of Portrait Painters
16th April – 1May
020 7930 6844