The most beautiful portraits of the last decade

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A well painted portrait can evoke something powerful and unique in its depiction of a subject that can not be brought out by a simple photograph.

Even with the seemingly unstoppable ascent of the selfie, modern portraiture is very much alive and well, and, as purveyors and fans of beauty, we thought we’d bring you a few contemporary highlights from the genre that you may not have heard about. Who knows, they may even give you the inspiration you need to purchase the perfect beauty stocking fillers for your loved ones.

Ken Dodd by David Cobley – 2004

The popular entertainer was once described as able to convey ‘every expression available to the human face’. This portrait of him in the green room at a theatre shows a weary and human side to the performer, who is dipped in shadow on his left side as a contrast to the lights above his mirror.

There is also interplay between his off and on stage persona, both from his posture and the hints of stage properties tucked away in the mirror’s reflection. Cobley was shortlisted for the Holburne Portrait Prize for the painting.

JK Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright – 2005

Rowling has made an impact on children’s literature of such scale that it will likely never be forgotten, the imagination and colourfulness behind her legendary Harry Potter booked reached out to a generation.

This portrait of the writer eating while at work is expressive and rife with symbolism: the three eggs represent her three daughters, the space she sits in is cramped and of peculiar dimensions, perhaps representing the often strange interior world of the creative writer. Outside her window, clouds drift by bathed in accentuated sunlight, furthering the dreamy, otherworldly quality of the painting.

Bill Morris by John Keane – 2005

Bill Morris was the first black leader of a British trade union, and has campaigned tirelessly for workers’ rights for decades. In this portrait, Keane mixes a digitally printed background with a more traditional painted close up of Morris’ face.

His upturned collar and oh so slight smile denote a level of informality unexpected in a man of his stature. Light is again a key player here, with an unexpected shaft of brightness from above the high rise building behind him coming down into a dappled effect that merges with the brushstrokes on his forehead and shoulders. The muted browns and greys of the piece make the blue sky at the top of the picture more striking, denoting optimism and a nod to Morris’ Caribbean heritage.