Portraits: Why Are They So Common in Art? | NZ Fine Prints

Portraits: Why Are They So Common in Art?

Painting of knight in front of castle surrounded by other people


There’s no doubt that portrait art is one of the most common art types, and that this has always been the case. But why are portraits so prevalent, both in the history of art and today? In this blog post, we’re going to explore why portraits are so popular, and so common in many different movements of art!

 

1. Making portraits paid well

Historically, painters could count on portraits when they needed income. This idea grew out of the practice of ‘court painting’, wherein painters like Fransisco Goya were kept on retainer to create paintings of royalty. For a lot of history, commissioned work like this was basically the function of art; the idea of ‘personal inspiration’ is relatively new to modern society! A huge amount of historical art began not with the painter themselves, but with someone else paying the painter to create a piece. It's probably worth mentioning that this idea is drawn mostly from the European tradition of art, which we’re focusing on in particular, because it’s more or less where a lot of the formal ideas about portrait painting come from. Many of the most famous European paintings of all time are, in fact, commissioned work, including the Mona Lisa! And it’s easy to understand why people were eager to pay artists to paint themselves or their families, because it was the only way to keep images of loved ones before photography existed everywhere in the western world. The movement away from commissioned portraits is though to be relatively slow. It began as a practice reserved for the rich, but slowly became more accessible for lower classes in European societies, until eventually, painters simply began painting portraits of people they knew, or even strangers they happened to see.

 

2. People like people!

The next big reason portraits have always been popular is very straightforward; we’re social creatures! Humans enjoy looking at other humans, and portraits were one of the first ways we could reproduce the experience of looking at someone. There is more to it than that, of course. On a deeper level, portraits can also reveal all sorts of interesting things about their subjects. Part of this lies in the decisions that are made by the artist. How have they chosen to represent the subject of the painting, and what does this say about how people viewed the subject at the time? With older paintings, it can be a full-time job investigating the historical context surrounding these questions, but they are still engaging to think about for anyone, whether they collect art or not. Portraits can also tell us a lot about someone from the level of detail alone. A great example is the oil painting Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele by Jan van Eyck. The painting depicts its donor, Joris van der Paele, and modern medical experts now believe that they can guess how he died from the details in the painting alone. The two biggest clues are the spectacles he carries, and an enlarged vein on his head, which suggest he suffered from temporal arteritis. Jan van Eyck’s paintings were known for this level of minute detail, and it’s incredible that his portraits can tell us things about their subjects that the people of the time didn’t even know. Overall, it will always be true that people are fascinated by other people, and portraits give us a window into how other people think, showing us either how the subject wanted to be seen, or how the artist wanted to show them, or both!

 

3. People like painters

This final point is an extension of the one above, with a twist. It’s true that people are social beings, but it’s especially true that we tend to be fascinated by the painters themselves, and self-portraits have always carried this mystique with them, offering us a glimpse into the creative mind. Just as portraits can tell us about how their subjects were viewed, self-portraits can tell us how artists view themselves. A lot of painters painted self-portraits during their careers, but Frida Kahlo is probably one of the most well-known artists of the form, creating over fifty self-portraits during her life. The Two Fridas is one of her most analysed self-portraits because she painted two versions of herself; one in European clothes, and one in traditional Tehuana clothing. The meaning behind this has been discussed for decades, and many different theories have been proposed, including by Kahlo herself, who said it was representative of a memory of a childhood friend.

 

Do you like portraits?

These are just a few of the reasons that portraits are so common and have been so influential. However, art comes down to taste a lot of the time, so no matter how popular they are or have been, they’re not for everyone! On the other hand, if you’re not a fan, you shouldn’t give up on the whole genre straight away! Portraiture contains so many different styles of art that there’s always a chance you’ll find something new and fall in love with it! Portraits make great additions to your home too. Here at New Zealand Fine Prints, we have a range of portraits available under the portrait category on our site. You can also find some classic portraits in our framed wall art collection, including our largest portrait print by CF Goldie, who was best known for his portraits of Maori dignitaries. To find out more, browse our range today!

How to Hang Wall Art Like A Pro | NZ Fine Prints

How to Hang Wall Art Like A Pro

A collection of art prints ready to be hung up


Having art prints in your home is a great way to express your creativity and personal style, and making an extra effort to thoughtfully hang your favourite images will only help maximise the aesthetics of your home. This guide will provide a few tips on arranging your art to get the most out of your walls.  
  

Determine Your Location


Once you have collected your pieces of print art, you'll want to start to think about the best place to hang them in your home. As most canvas prints are susceptible to damage from elements like temperature and humidity, it's recommended that they hang in a cool and dry area of your home. Some optimal areas include living rooms, bedrooms, and hallways where the temperature stays consistent.

Luckily, within these areas, there are so many different places to hang your wall art, such as above: 
 • a bed
 
 • living room furniture
 
 • a fireplace
 
 • a desk
   

You can ultimately much hang your art anywhere in these areas that there is a blank wall available. The choice is yours!  

 

Consider the Arrangement


But before you even think about hanging your art, it's essential that you consider the arrangement of your pieces. This step will help you to avoid any unnecessary holes in your wall.  

We recommend gathering your art prints, placing them on a table—or even the floor—and moving their positions until you find an arrangement that you like best. This process allows you to get creative and try different layouts without committing to one solution. Once you have made your final decision, take a photo of the arrangement so you can refer back to the picture as you begin to hang them. 

This technique is especially valuable for prints in a series. Some pieces of art are designed to be hung together—in a triptych for example. On the other hand, you might take three pieces from completely different artists, and decide that you want to make a series out of them! Art that uses similar colours or themes is ideal for matching like this.

 

Hanging Multiple Prints


If you are working with an extensive collection of art, you might find yourself needing to create several different series of prints—perhaps a series for each room. When you have a lot of art to arrange like this, it's important to treat them as a gallery to achieve a balanced look. 

When you are arranging wall art with groups of prints, you can really get creative. Try a few different techniques like hanging them side-by-side, slightly staggered, symmetrically, or even asymmetrically. Whatever layout you decide on, we highly recommend using low adhesive tape to plan out your arrangement on your wall and help you determine your optimal hanging position and nail placement.   

 

Judge the Distance


Measuring your available space and the distance between each print will help keep the correct spacing between them as you begin to hang them on your wall. Ideally, the space between each piece should be in the range of 5cm to 15cm. This, as a general rule, is the sweet spot.   

Another helpful recommendation is that your art arrangement should not span wider than the piece of furniture that you're hanging it over. While these "rules" are certainly solid advice, feel free to experiment with different measurements, especially if you want to achieve a different effect.  

 

Hang at Eye-Level


Most people tend to hang their wall art too high on the wall, and it's widely accepted in the art world that the optimal position to hang a piece is at eye level. To be exact, you should look to hang your print at the height of 5'7, which represents the average human eye height, and is also a measurement that is regularly used in galleries and museums.  

 Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For those with low ceilings, you will have to calculate the optimal position based on the available space, and if you intend to hang your art over a couch or a fireplace, these prints will naturally be placed higher on the wall. 

 

Reach Out to Us for More


For more information on how to hang your art like a pro, reach out to our team of experts—we are more than happy to answer any of your questions. If you are still searching for your dream prints, check out our stunning range of canvas prints and framed wall art in our online store

How to Look After Your Canvas Art Prints | NZ Fine Prints

How to Look After Your Canvas Art Prints


One of our selection of canvas art prints
Canvas art prints today are brilliant quality and should be long lasting as well. They are a beautiful way to enjoy your favourite artwork on your walls every day. When you invest in a canvas piece that you love it’s worth spending that little extra time learning how to look after it properly. In this guide, we will discuss the proper handling and care your canvas print will need to stay in perfect condition for years to come.



Hang in a Cool and Dry Room (this can be ignored though*)

Once you have purchased your print and and we've delivered it to your home or office, you will likely begin to think about the walls where it will hang best. Wherever you decide to place your piece, we advise considering elements such as the temperature and humidity of the room. For a canvas print, cool and dry conditions are best since heat and moisture can cause your canvas to stretch over time. It is good practice to avoid hanging in areas like bathrooms and kitchens where heat and humidity often accumulate. The optimal rooms to hang your prints tend to be the living room and bedroom, where humidity is low, and the temperature stays mostly consistent.  *However we might also contradict ourselves a bit here, in that canvas prints can work really well in bathroom or kitchen because unlike an original artwork you won't be as concerned if the canvas does take a bit of a hammering from humidity and heat because it is relatively inexpensive and easy to replace!

 

Avoid Direct Sunlight

Hanging a canvas print in a well-lit area of your home will undoubtedly bring out its vibrant colours, but—if possible—we recommend keeping your new wall art out of direct sunlight unless you don't mind having to replace the artwork every few years. Canvas art (and in fact most artwork) really does not fare well under frequent exposure to the harsh NZ sunlight. While most canvas prints are sprayed with a UV-resistant coating consistent direct sunlight can still cause your print to eventually fade a lot faster.

 

Frequent Dusting

Like any furniture or fixture in your home, your canvas print will accumulate cobwebs and dust. To keep your print looking stunning, we recommend dusting it regularly using a dry, soft brush, or even using a clean feather duster to gently wipe the canvas’s surface. If you can, try to avoid rubbing the print with your fingers, as this can damage the print material. If you have a framed canvas print, feel free to use a damp cloth to remove any dust, but be sure not to spray any water directly onto the exposed print.

 

Don’t Use Chemical Cleaners

We strongly advise against using chemicals to clean your print. Many household cleaning solutions contain strong acids that can cause real damage if they come into contact with your wall print. Most prints are treated with a protective UV coating that does not react well to chemical or water-based cleaners, often responding by breaking down and stripping the ink. If your print needs a more thorough cleaning, you can try running a damp microfibre cloth or a dry lint-free cloth over it gently. For tougher stains and grime, your best option is to take your print to an art restorer, they will work carefully to clean your print without any damage.

 

Careful Storage

Whether you’re moving to a new house or simply updating your home or office décor, you may want to put your canvas prints in storage. The key to storing your prints is to have them upright in either back-to-back or face-to-face positions—this ensures that they are protected from damage. If possible, it’s also recommended to keep them off the floor, as this will help prevent them from absorbing moisture out of the ground and reduce the chances of physical damage. If your canvas is going into long-term storage, we advise wrapping it in acid-free craft paper or even acid-free bubble wrap, which will keep your print from scratching and yellowing from being in contact with acidic wrapping materials.

 

Find Your Own Stunning Canvas Print

With the proper care, it’s easy to keep your canvas art prints looking vibrant and pristine for years to come. If you have any doubts about your cleaning and storing methods, refer back to this guide, or contact one of our team for more advice. If you’re interested in purchasing a high-quality print for your home, we have a stunning range of canvas prints in our online store, deliverable across New Zealand and around the work (unframed canvases only outside of NZ). Browse our collection today and find one that you love!

Van Gogh and Surrealist Exhibitions in NZ This Year | NZ Fine Prints

Van Gogh and Surrealist Exhibitions Landing in NZ This Year

Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait on wall

Two exciting exhibitions are on in Aotearoa in 2021: the enormously successful “Van Gogh Alive” experience and a visiting collection of surrealist works in Te Papa. Both exhibitions shine a light on some of the most enduring art of our history, and both aim to showcase the work in new and provocative ways. In this blog, we’re exploring the subject matter of these shows and delving deeper into the details of the exhibitions, to give you an idea of what to expect.

 

The Legacy of Vincent Van Gogh

While very well-known today, Vincent Van Gogh spent his entire career working in obscurity. Over ten years, he created over two thousand artworks, including roughly 860 oil paintings, many of which he completed in the last two years of his life. It was in this later period that he developed the style he is famous for today; much of his highly expressive brushwork isn’t present in a large majority of his early work. The Dutch post-impressionist painter only became a major influence on western art after his death at 37, in 1890. This has made him the archetype of the “tortured artist” and given his story a poetic, tragic quality that plays into his enduring popularity. Despite the common perception of his creativity and mental illness being two sides of the same coin, it’s largely accepted now that he only painted during those times in his life in which he was not depressed or in poverty. Regardless, his work lives on, and prints of Vincent Van Gogh paintings remain some of the most popular items we have ever stocked here at NZ Fine Prints.

 

Van Gogh Alive

The “Van Gogh Alive” experience first came to New Zealand last year, appearing on Wellington’s waterfront as ‘Digital Nights’. The new show is a large-scale, indoor installation, designed to take attendees on a journey through the various stages of Van Gogh’s life, and transport them to the places he lived and worked over his career, such as Arles, Saint Rémy, and Auvers-sur-Oise. The experience is a multi-media adventure, including a musical score and projected moving images, offering visitors the chance to go beyond the surface of each of Van Gogh’s works and step inside them instead. The installation has been confirmed to exceed the government’s current COVID-19 health guidelines. The show has already concluded in Wellington, but tickets are still available to book for the current run in Christchurch, which concludes on March 28, and the upcoming opening in Auckland, which will run from April 10 through to May 6.

 

From Van Gogh to Surrealism

In many ways, Van Gogh paved the way in the late 19th century for the surrealist movement in the early 20th century, which has its roots in numerous earlier traditions, post-impressionism included. The first surrealist manifestos were published only 30 or so years after Van Gogh’s death. Like Van Gogh, surrealist paintings have proven to be enduring, although it’s harder to say why. The abstract nature of the work may give it a timeless quality; many surrealist pieces look like they could have been painted yesterday. It’s also possible that art movements tend to remain popular when they are attached to an idea or a way of life. Early adherents of surrealism certainly talked about it being more than just an art movement; they wanted to create a new way of life, and challenge existing conceptions about how people ought to think and act. As humans, we tend to enjoy the concept of trailblazers, especially in art.

 

Te Papa’s Upcoming Surrealism Exhibition

Due to open last June but postponed due to COVID-19, this upcoming exhibition will showcase 180 surrealist works, including well-known paintings by Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, and more. Organised by Te Papa curator Lizzie Bisley, the exhibition is possible thanks to the collection’s usual home—the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen—being closed for renovations. It is the first time the collection will be on display in Australasia and the first opportunity many Kiwis will have ever had to see some of the world’s most famous surrealist pieces first-hand. Like the “Van Gogh Alive” experience, this exhibition will feature digital projections and interactive elements. Visitors will even be invited to record their own dreams, so they can take part in the creation of surrealist art too! Te Papa is planning to run a schedule of public events in tandem with the exhibition, to further enhance the showing.

 

Bring a piece of art history home

Here at New Zealand Fine Prints, we have a wide range of pieces from many famous art movements. Our collection includes the largest range of prints of surrealism paintings in New Zealand, from artists such as Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher and Rene Magritte. If you want a piece of art history to call your own, browse our collection today, and find one that speaks to you!

Beautiful Black and White Art Prints for Your Home | NZ Fine Prints

Beautiful Black and White Art Prints for Your Home 


As the Mist Clears by Robyn Schroeder, black and white art print
Black & white print by NZ artist Robyn Schroder "As the Mist Clears"

Monochrome art prints have long been a staple when it comes to decorating, as black and white—when used appropriately—can fit into almost any colour scheme. Many different styles of interior design make use of monochrome tones, including minimalist, contemporary, art deco, and Scandinavian design. Even very vibrant colour palettes can benefit from a bit of black and white, as black helps bring a space down to earth and gives other colours a grounding point, while white provides a dramatic contrast. Including both is a great way to focus the look of almost any space and bring a fresh sophistication to it. Here in New Zealand, black and white (or silver) are two of our national colours, along with the red ochre seen on the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. When adding a bit of black and white to a space here in Aotearoa, it carries a little bit of extra meaning, and can really be a chance to create a visual context that us Kiwis live within. Below, we showcase our favourite monochrome art prints, with particular attention to the those that reference our home right here at the bottom of the world.

Rise Up – Barry Ross Smith

Haka bulls

First, we have this print by Barry Ross Smith. It’s no surprise that a lot of Kiwiana artworks reference our national pastime—rugby. For many, the All Blacks are the first thing that comes to mind when you mention ‘black’ and ‘New Zealand’ in the same sentence. Nearly all our national sports teams use either black or silver in some way, and this translates easily into the monochrome pieces created by Kiwi artists. Barry describes this painting as evoking the passion we feel for our national game, while tying it to our agricultural heritage.

 


Mince – Dick Frizzell


Mincer with knife

Part of a series of domestic graphics, ‘Mince’ is an understated print, perfect for the kitchen. It embodies the labour of household management, but chooses to do so in a sharp, uncompromising way, referencing the Kiwi approach to practical living. This screenprint is available on Artistico Fabriano cotton rag paper.







As the Mist Clears – Robyn Schroeder

Monochrome NZ landscape with lake & trees

This print of Robyn Schroeder’s original painting showcases another element of Aotearoa that we hold dear—the natural landscape. Presented in stark black and white, this piece depicts mist evaporating off a South Island lake in the morning. Connection to the land has always been important for those living in New Zealand, giving this piece an unspoken weight and beauty. This print is ideal for pulling together larger spaces, like the dining or living room.


 



 

Game of Two Halves – Weston Frizzell

Black & White Rugby Ball with Koru lacing

Another Frizzell family piece, this print is a cool piece of modern NZ printmaking which also celebrates our national game of rugby. It is a sophisticated representation of the game, referencing the popular phrase “game of two halves”, which is used to state that any situation could end any number of ways, regardless of how it seems to be going now. It also references the koru shape, the illusionist works of MC Escher, and the dualist concept of Yin and Yang.






Scared – Colin McCahon

I am Scared, I stand up in Colin McCahon's handwriting
Finally, we have this NZ masterwork. More abstract than the others presented so far, ‘Scared’ can be seen as a highly personal work, and an allegory of McCahon’s life, but its cry is also a universal one—a call of protest and a demand to take action. Colin McCahon started his ‘Scared’ series in the mid-70s when he was around 60 years of age. His work was often directly related to emotion, and he talked at length about his fears and doubts when discussing his art. The artwork has a harder edge than more commercial Kiwiana style prints, making it better suited to spaces that want to be more attention grabbing, or challenging. Similar prints by this artist can be found in our Colin McCahon art collection.

 

Learn more about decorating with Fine Prints!

For more advice on decorating from the NZ experts, follow our blog for articles like this. If you’re interested in purchasing high-quality prints in black and white, you can also take a look at our new black and white prints collection!

The Best New Zealand Landscapes for Art Prints | NZ Fine Prints

The Best New Zealand Landscapes for Art Prints

Clouds hanging over milford sound with two mountains and water between them

When exploring the world of framed wall art in New Zealand, you can quickly discover that there’s a wealth of options. Landscapes are a popular pick, especially because there’s no shortage of incredible scenery in Aotearoa, and thus no shortage of art featuring stunning natural features and breathtakingly vistas, viewed through the lens of the artist.  In this blog, we look at some of the best New Zealand landscapes, and discuss why they lend themselves so well to art.

 

Aotea / Great Barrier Island

Aotea, known to most as Great Barrier Island, is part of Auckland’s well-known Hauraki Gulf. The island lies around 100 kilometres from the central Auckland harbour. It’s the sixth-biggest island in the country, and Mount Hobson—the island’s peak—reaches over 600 meters above the sea. Aotea is the ancestral home of Ngāti Rehua, and the island has two marae, one affiliated with Ngāti Rehua, and the other with another local iwi; Ngātiwai. 

Print of Great Barrier Island by Justin Summerton
Print of Great Barrier Island by Justin Summerton
During the colonisation of New Zealand, Aotea was settled by Europeans for mining, Kauri logging, and was later the location of New Zealand’s last whaling station. As time went on, more on more of the island fell under the protection of the Department of Conservation, and these days, over half of the island is a nature reserve. Just under 1000 people live on the island, and those who visit tend to feel like it is like stepping backward through time.  


Aotea’s position just off the coast of Auckland is a big part of what makes it so great for art. It’s pronounced shape in the heart of the harbour draws the eye, and it hasn’t been settled in the same way that other islands—like Waiheke—have. Even though it’s just next door to New Zealand’s biggest city, the island remains largely how it always has.

 

Piopiotahi / Milford Sound

Milford Sound, New Zealand
Milford Sound Canvas Print by Dale Gallagher
Milford Sound, or Piopiotahi in Māori, almost needs no introduction. The South Island fjord is world-famous, having been named the world’s number one travel destination in the TripAdvisor 2008 Traveler’s Choice Awards. Piopiotahi is potentially New Zealand’s most famous attraction, and in the age of the Travel Instagram, the magical location has charmed thousands. Rudyard Kipling even once called it the eighth Wonder of the World!  It’s no wonder Milford Sound makes such a popular subject for landscape art—it’s hard to think of any part of New Zealand that looks more visually arresting. View our Milford Sound prints for more!

 

Aoraki / Mount Cook

Mt Cook/Aoraki and the Tasman River
Mt Cook & The Tasman River by Peter Beadle
The tallest mountain in New Zealand, the mighty Aoraki reaches 3,724 metres above sea level, towering over the Southern Alps; the mountain range that forms the spine of the South Island. Mount Cook has long attracted avid mountain climbers, with several summits, and views of nearby glaciers.  Ngāi Tahu, one of the main iwi in the south of New Zealand, have a strong connection to Aoraki. They hold the mountain as a sacred ancestor—Aoraki forms a physical link between the natural world, and the supernatural. It’s easy to see why the locals hold the mountain in such high regard—it truly is awe-inspiring. Mountains—particularly volcanoes—are almost always held in high regard by indigenous peoples, and perhaps this sense of awe is also why so many artists are drawn to it, in an attempt to capture the immense sense of scope the mountain has. View our Mount Cook prints to find the perfect landscape piece for your space.

 

Want a piece of New Zealand’s landscape in your home?

Here at NZ Fine Prints, we sell a huge range of NZ landscape prints, from a number of celebrated artists. If you’re looking to decorate your home with a piece of New Zealand’s natural majesty, you can’t do much better than a framed print. See the range for yourself in our shop today!