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Few portrait painters gloss over the imperfections of their sitters, as they understand these aspects convey character and humanity. In the past this was a risky business for artists commissioned to paint royalty, as the truth of what they saw, when consigned to canvas, may not always have been complimentary. Artists who followed their convictions give us a rare insight into characters of the past, such as Velázquez’s portraits of the Spanish royal family. When commissioning his portrait, Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said to the artist Peter Lely, “I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it”. Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Winston Churchill was destroyed by his wife after his death, indicating her lack of appreciation of its honesty.

Painting and drawing

Printmaking

Sculpture

Alternative media