About Memorial Portraits


A painting of the one you lost can give great comfort to you or a friend who is grieving their loss. It brings the person to life in a way that a photograph  cannot.  Whether oil or pastel, it is made of pure pigment which ensures that with proper care it will last for generations, usually much longer than photographs.

A challenging and delicate specialty,  creating memorial portraits requires the utmost in sensitivity and creative solutions with the least amount of reference material.  For this reason many artists shy away from the task, but I consider posthumous portraits  one of the more gratifying aspects of my portrait work.  I have a thick file full of testimonials from clients, a great many of which are concerning memorial portraits, which lift my spirits and attest to the rightness of my chosen profession. (See the Testimonials page.)

Great care must be taken to ensure that the true personality shines through in the painting, no matter the quality of the source photograph(s). This is not the time to rely on amateurs, friends who mean well, or artists who do not specialize in portraits. You need an artist with extensive experience in painting from both the live model and the photograph, as well as a talent and passion for portraiture. I will not disappoint you. I take pride in my ability to satisfy my clients’ portrait needs, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

A True  Story

Years ago, when I was participating in an art show, I ran across a businessman who stopped at my booth and gave a careful look at my samples. When I asked him if he was thinking about a portrait, he told me his story.

His brother, with whom he was close, had died a couple of years before. In that time, he had had several artists paint a portrait from the few small, fuzzy photographs available, never with any success. While he still very much wanted a portrait of his brother, he was discouraged and naturally reluctant to spend still more money on something he couldn’t see beforehand.

My solution was simple. I told him, “Let me do a portrait of your brother. I will ask for no money down (waiving the usual 50%) and when you see the finished portrait, if you don’t like it, you will not pay a dime.” My only qualification was that, since the photos were not very good, that I would be able to carry the portrait only so far, and then I would need his feedback to adjust it to the right likeness.

When I showed him the portrait back in my studio, as I anticipated, he needed me to adjust a few features to find the exact likeness which the photos alone couldn’t show. I adjusted the picture for a few minutes after each suggestion while he watched, and then he stepped back, and declared softly, “That’s my brother!” and suddenly walked out of the room to compose himself. When he came back he happily paid my price and had me do several other portraits for him, and recommended me to many friends.

Trusting the Client

No portrait artist takes more care to satisfy their clients than I do. I am very patient. That’s because I understand what it means to have a likeness be close, but not quite right. This I learned from personal experience:

Many years ago, when I was pretty new at this profession, I had to paint the most difficult portrait I have ever done: the likeness of my brother-in-law who had just died. I was making it for his upcoming memorial service. Because I knew him and loved him, it was very tough, and I had to fight a few times to compose myself.

I got to a point where it seemed to be done, and yet something wasn’t quite there. After a break I continued to work on it. The adjustments were small, but they made a big difference – Jim was now looking back at me. After that, I was more patient with my customers, understanding and trusting them if they felt an adjustment was needed, as it can make the difference between a pretty good likeness and one where the person shines through.

I have an even deeper empathy now for people grieving a loss, as my husband of 36 years passed away  suddenly last December. With the pain of his loss comes a renewed dedication to get it right – to work with the client to bring every bit of life and soul to the painted portrait as it is possible to do. (See more of my story on the Special Honors page, and the Cassidy Alexander Interview on the side bar under “Interesting Sites.”)


Often there is no one picture that will translate perfectly into a painted portrait. An artist needs to add or subtract or emphasize certain aspects of a photograph to produce a great painting. What I am looking for most of all is a photograph that captures the spirit and best facial expression of the person.

Original Photo, Off. Michael Bailey

It doesn’t matter even if they’re in their bathrobes in the kitchen: everything, other than the turn of the head, can be changed or eliminated to accommodate your memory of the one who has passed away, including the hair style or color, clothing, eyeglasses, hats, backgrounds and other people in the photograph. Other reference photos are appreciated to make the changes accurate. People can be shown in uniform, for example, when the photo is in civilian clothes.

Memorial Portrait - Michael Bailey

Final portrait, Off. Michael Bailey

Posthumous portraits are especially dependent on good artist-client communication and understanding. With your help and patience, I’m sure I can produce a sensitive and accurate painting or drawing that you will be proud to hang in your home or office, and which will bring you comfort for many years to come.

Multiple Images Option

If your loved one had a number of striking expressions, looks or fields of interest, you may want to consider a multiple image, – or montage – portrait. This is also perfect for representing a number of stages (ages) in life.  This may consist of two or three more portrayals of the subject, usually with varying sizes of heads, or with hands included on one image, or even one of a full body pose. A vignette –  softly fading crop  – of the image is preferred to help the images fit well on the canvas.

You may also elect to have yourself painted with your loved one, or any other person(s) put together. I can usually accommodate you if you have enough source photographs. Please write me to discuss your case.

Memorial Portrait by Cassidy Alexander

Tribute Portrait of Young Boy

As an artist, I can recommend a composition for you and help you to sift through the choices of source photographs so that the final painting is an artistic as well as an accurate success. The overall size of the canvas may need to be larger than you originally thought, and the heads may need to be smaller, but this is all adjustable. The price will reflect commensurate additional charges for the extra images, which can vary by size and complexity. I can give you several choices of size, price and style when you present the source photos. They can be emailed as well. Please get in touch with me to discuss your particular wishes.

See the Memorial Portrait Gallery