Before the advent of photography, portrait paintings and sketches were the only way images of loved ones could be preserved for posterity. Perhaps the most famous oil painting portrait in the world is the Mona Lisa, painted by Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s. Oil painting portraits became increasingly popular in European countries over the next few centuries, with masters such as Rembrandt in Holland and Gainsborough in Britain completing some of their most famous and exquisite portraits. In the 18th and 19th centuries, American artists completed important works of art. Some of these works are now housed in the National Portrait Museum in Washington, D.C.
While photography added an element of realism to imagery, fascination with oil portrait paintings continued. Oil portraits became a status symbol that could only be afforded by the very wealthy. As color photography became more sophisticated, paper reprints of famous works of art flooded markets. However, even these reprints could not displace the oil painting portrait from its place in people’s hearts and homes.
Today, one can trace the history of oil painting portraits and enjoy these beautiful works of art that may show an individual, a group of people or an animal. The ready availability of skilled artists has also resulted in a lucrative oil painting portrait business in the United States. In recent times, oil painting portraits have become increasingly affordable, and are a popular gift choice to mark special occasions. Clients can choose to have themselves, family members, friends or favorite pets painted in a particular style or size. The artist may paint subjects over a number of settings, or work from a photograph to create a likeness in oil and canvas. Because the artist has to paint in layers, a portrait can take up to several weeks to complete.