The 40 Most Revealing Artist Portraits
It’s always intriguing to see the faces of the creators behind famous works of art. While Picasso, Dali, Matisse and perhaps a handful of other artists are recognized around the world, however, countless other painters and sculptors of note — including some of the finest, most influential artists of the past century — are, in a sense, invisible. Their works endure; but their look — their expressions, their eyes, their style — is often a complete and utter blank in the minds of even the savviest art enthusiasts.
Here, LIFE.com presents a series of portraits of the artists who reimagined and redefined ways of seeing the world throughout the 20th century. Pollock is here, and Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe and even Renoir. But can casual art fans actually identify a photograph of, say, Claes Oldenburg? Or Jasper Johns (83 years old today, May 15)? Or Barbara Hepworth or Giorgio de Chirico?
What’s wonderful about the 41 pictures here, including those (like the deeply shadowed silhouettes of Hopper and O’Keeffe) in which we perceive a sense of the figure, rather than the details of his or her visage, is that each photo reveals something specifically, uniquely essential about the artist. After all, one would be hard-pressed to find two more dissimilar portraits than those of Arshile Gorky and Robert Rauschenberg. But each of those photographs in this gallery captures an aspect of the artist’s personality and sensibility (Gorky’s moody intensity; Rauschenberg’s exuberance) that, in a heartbeat, helps us see something — even if it’s only a glimpse — of the human being behind the artwork.