My 5 Favourite Painters and Why

Working at Collins & Green, as well as being a History of Art Master's student at The Courtauld Institute in London, I am delighted to be introduced to hundreds of different artists throughout history through my work and studies. Some are more famous, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Henri Matisse, and some really obscure. At Collins & Green, it is fascinating to discover so many unknown artists and decorative artworks from all over Europe; identifying them makes you feel like you're bringing a vintage artist of the pasts' work to life.

However, one thing that has struck me is that I do not encounter many of my favourite artists in my academic studies; I tend to enjoy writing about art that I do not particularly like looking at! Difficult artworks raise more questions, whereas artists who paint particularly beautifully such as Claude Monet, I find more self-explanatory. So here is a chance for me to encounter some of my favourite artists from all areas of the globe; I'd love this article inform and perhaps introduce you, to some new artists amongst some more familiar ones.

John Singer Sergeant

John Singer Sargent painting from the National Galleries of Scotland. Depicts a vintage portrait of a young woman with a focus on the textiles of her ivory coloured dress with a purple belt.

'Lady Ages of Lochnaw' by John Singer Sergeant, painted 1892, The National Gallery of Art, Scotland. Currently on display at Tate Britain's Sergeant and Fashion exhibition, London.

I begin my journey through my favourite artists with arguably one of the most artistically skilled portrait painters who ever lived. I may be biased, but his ability to capture light, sensuous beauty, nature, as well as scenes of horror is unparalleled. He was an iextremely well-travelled man for his time, born in 1856 in Florence to American parents, his family were considered nomadic expatriates, living in Paris and frequently visiting Spain and Italy. This variety of cultural influences can be seen in his art despite their obviously Western perspective, and his passion for people and the human figure shines through his art unlike any other artists I've seen. Tate Britain is currently exhibiting an wonderful selection of his artworks focusing on his interest in  fashion and textiles.

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt painting of a woman in a golden dress with a gold leaf background. Her face is painted realistically contrasting the abstract patterns on her dress.

'Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I' by Gustav Klimt, painted 1908, oil and gold leaf on canvas. Neue Galerie, New York.

In a similar vein to John Singer Sergeant, Gustav Klimt's works exude passion, luxury, and elegance. Born in Vienna in 1862, Klimt was a major figurehead in the Secessionist art movement in Vienna in the late 19th century. The movement wanted art to reflect the spirit of the age it was painted in, and arguably Klimt managed to do this so well his art still looks modern today. His innovative mixed media approach to portraiture used gold leaf alongside oil paints to create new dimensions in portraiture not really seen before. He collates imagery, techniques, and symbolism from Ancient Egyptian interiors and scripture creating a mystical, otherworldly effect. Thanks to Klimt's vision in creating groundbreaking art in its time, his work continues to inform art practice today.

Frantisek Kupka

Abstract painting by František Kupka depicting rotating shapes in multiple colours.

'Autour d’un point (E.IV)' by Frantisek Kupka, gouache, watercolour, and pencil on paper. Sold by Sotheby's to an anonymous buyer in 2021.

Now for something very different, Frantisek Kupka was born in Czechia in 1871 and was one of the major pioneers of early abstract art. He saw art as a means of exploring the transforming perspective of time in the early 20th century, with its advances in physics, engineering, and transport.  Experiencing the results of the Industrial Revolution, it made sense that art began to move outside its usual boundaries of representation and figuration into something completely new. Kupka subscribed to the movement of Orphism where paintings consisted of rounded shapes and patterns. Kupka himself would sketch the same figurative scene multiple times to reach a point where the painting was completely unrecognisable. His innovation has been overlooked in art history especially as he was one of the first abstract artists to ever exhibit all the way back in 1912. 

Hilma af Klint

Abstract painting by Hilma af Klint with a bright orange background behind large circluar, swirling, shapes and lines in pastel colours and black.

'The Ten Largest, no. 3, Younger age, group IV' by Hilma af Klint, 1907. Egg tempura on board, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

No relation to Gustav Klimt (a common mistake), Hilma af Klint was a Swedish artist and Spiritualist who sought to look beyond reality in her art and to visualise the world that underlies our everyday. Another pioneer of abstraction, Klint has been overlooked in her career despite creating abstract artworks years before more well-known artists such as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich. She saw life through a spiritual lens, conceptualising its hidden meanings through form and colour, and sought to represent life cycles in her works. Recently, the Tate Modern exhibition 'Forms of Life' presented her artworks alongside the Theosophist colour charts and the writings which inspired her paintings. This spiritual essence influenced what we understand as abstract art today; art which does not visually represent what we can see in our reality, rather, what lies behind it.

Aubrey Williams

Abstract painting by Aubrey Williams with a bright yellow and orange background, with purple, blue, and red abstract shapes in the foreground.

'Untitled' by Aubrey Williams, painted 1970, sand and oil on canvas, Aubrey Williams Estate, courtesy of the October Gallery.

Born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1926, Aubrey Williams  worked in both London and the Caribbean. Originally trained as an agricultural worker, he had been tutored in art from the age of 3 and showed great talent from an early age. Whilst working on sugar plantations, he met many native people who worked with the land and learned to collaborate with them, discovering the ancient ways of cultivating the land. I love the way Williams combines his experiences of indigenous peoples, the symbolism of cave painting, and the futuristic nature of abstraction. This collation of past, present, and future makes his art stand out to me; admittedly, some of his works I find visually difficult, yet I always find them fascinating. As a member of the Windrush Generation, his art has also been often overlooked in art history circles, and I can't wait to research him for my upcoming Master's dissertation.

Final Thoughts

Delicate watercolour painting by John Singer Sargent depicting the shadows of a tree on the side of a White House on a summer's day.

'Corfu: Lights and Shadows' by John Singer Sergeant, painted 1909. Graphite and watercolour on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

Any History of Art student or art enthusiast will tell you that choosing your favourite artists is a really difficult task. In my degree I'm not often asked whether I like a painting or not, or whether it aesthetically pleases me at all. Being critical of art is both academically informed and a gut reaction to a painting; yet, anyone can and should have an opinion on an artwork thanks to the visceral reactions they can entice. As you can see, I have a rather eclectic range of art which I enjoy for a multitude of reasons, ranging from intriguing abstract pieces to beautiful examples of portraiture. Sometimes, I love a piece of art for no particular reason at all, just for the way it makes me feel in that moment. Other times, I love the story a painting tells, where the artist came from and how they came to create the painting. Ultimately, art is there for anyone to have an opinion on, whether they feel like they're an art expert or not and whether it's fine art, decorative art, vintage art or contemporary art!

Written by Eloise Saggers, Collins & Green Art