Portraits

Portraiture

Portraiture's appeal is immediate and enduring.

Portraits objectify appearance, convey social

standing, communicate aspirations, and perpetuate

celebrity. The best examples bring forth

the nuances of the sitter's personality, and they

demonstrate the artist's skill in capturing 

and constructingÑidentity. Portraiture is also

a microcosm of the history of art: in each of its

manifestations through the ages, it operates according

to the temporality of artistic convention.

The artwork in this gallery traces the history of

modern portraiture, from its origins in the work

of the 18th-century masters to its unique place

in the 20th-century avant-garde.

In the 18th century, portrait artists supported

themselves on commissions from nobles seeking

to immortalize their eminence; theirs was

a pictorial mode predicated on status and rank,

and focused more on idealized presence than on

the idiosyncrasies of actuality. Revolution and

political reforms in the late 18th century both

signaled and catalyzed a profound intellectual

shift; with it came the democratization of society,

the empowerment of citizens, and the transformation

of portraiture from the formulaic

depiction of aristocratic types to the celebration

of individual merit, the study of human character,

and, in the 19th century, the sympathetic

portrayal of even the humblest of sitters. By the

20th century, photography had emerged as a

preferred mirror of likeness and cipher of the

sitter's desires, liberating painted and sculpted

portraiture to intersect with modernism as an

index of the artist's choices.

In all of its iterations, however, portraiture

is ultimately the residual trace of a complex

dialogue between the artist and the sitter,

transmitted to the spectator regardless of

era in a timeless evocation of the richness

of human interactions.


Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827–1875)

 

Portrait of Young Chinese Man, c. 1872

 

Bronze

 

Purchase, Academy Volunteers Fund, 1979 (4750.1)

 

 


Reuben Nakian (Polish, 1897–1986)

 

Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1943

 

Bronze

 

Gift-Purchase, from the Frederick and Marcia Weisman Foundation, 1972 (4035.1)

 

 


Wilhelm Lehmbruck (German, 1881–1919)

 

Head of a Thinker, 1918

 

Cast stone (one of three casts)

 

Purchase, 1973 (4135.1)

 

With its prominent forehead, deep-set eyes, resolute expression, and single clenched fist, this portrait bust by the German Expressionist sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck assumes the brooding pathos of a person tormented in thought. Its attenuated proportions, violently rent limbs, and overall sense of profound despair suggest the anxiety and doom of the First World War and its aftermath, of which Lehmbruck had direct experience as a nurse in a German military hospital. Whether a harrowing tribute to the enormous suffering he witnessed there or an autobiographical reference to his own desolation (he committed suicide a year after this sculpture was completed) Head of a Thinker is less a likeness of a specific sitter than a grim reflection of the anguish felt by many in the wake of the first mechanized war.

 

 
Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904–1988)

 

Martha Graham, 1929

 

Bronze

 

Gift of Anna Rice Cooke, 1933 (3763)

 

A pivotal figure in the development of modern sculpture, Isamu Noguchi also specialized in furniture, garden, and stage design. Beginning in 1935, he worked on twenty-one stage sets for the American choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. In 1929, he created Graham's portrait, stunning her with his uncanny evocation of her powerful creative intensity: "The head he had done of me—I did not like it then (when it was created) and I do not like it now.  It had shown a side of my face, my left side, which changes only when I work. Isamu had seen this and caught it.  He had seen too deeply this time, even for me."


Robert Dampier (British, 1800–1874)

 

Kamehameha III, 1825

 

Oil on canvas

 

Gift of Eliza Lefferts Cooke, Charles M. Cooke III, and Carolene Alexander Cooke Wrenn in memory of Dr. C. Montague Cooke, Jr., 1951 (1066.1)

 

Robert Dampier was the official artist on the voyage HMS Blonde, which sailed to Hawai'i in 1825 with the bodies of king Kamehameha II and his queen Kamāmalu, who died in England after contracting measles. In Hawai'i, Dampier painted the younger brother and sister of Kamehameha II: Kamehameha III and Nāhi'ena'ena. Posed as the monarch he was destined to become, young Kamehameha stands regally in a verdant setting, the small settlement of Honolulu Fort just visible beyond the banana trees that frame him. Holding a spear, he is draped in a traditional feather garment, which conceals the Western-style clothing that he actually wore and which the royal family preferred. Kamehameha III reigned from 1825 to 1854, during which time he oversaw Hawai‘i’s transition from a feudal society to a constitutional monarchy.


Robert Dampier (British, 1800–1874)

 

Nāhi'ena'ena (Sister of Kamehameha III), 1825

 

Oil on canvas

 

Gift of Eliza Lefferts Cooke, Charles M. Cooke III, and Carolene Alexander Cooke Wrenn in memory of Dr. C. Montague Cooke, Jr., 1951 (1067.1)

 

Nāhi'ena'ena holds a kāhili, or feather standard, emblematic of her rank, and her hair is dressed with a feather lei worn only by the ali'i or chiefs. Draped over her shoulders is a magnificent feather cape, which conceals the black silk dress she reportedly wore when she sat for Dampier. Both her likeness and that of her brother Kamehameha III include vignettes of their kingdom in the background. The vessel moored in the distance is a reference to Hawai'i's position as a Pacific port of call for Western travelers.

 


Alex Katz (American, born 1927)

 

Ada with Black Scarf, 1966

 

Oil on canvas

 

Purchased with funds derived from the Shidler Familiy Foundation Fund and the Robert Allerton and Prisanlee Acquisition Funds, 1986 (5452.1)

 

 

 Alice Neel (American, 1900–1984)

 

Marisol, 1981

 

Oil on canvas

 

Purchase, gifts of Clare Boothe Luce and Mr. and Mrs. Howard Wise, by exchange; Prisanlee and Robert Allerton Funds, 1988 (5717.1)

 

At a time when recognizable subject matter was condemned by those interested in abstraction, Alice Neel was a determined realist who devoted herself to portraiture for over half a century. Depicting her family, friends, and acquaintances, she considered herself a collector of souls, the chronicler of the "neurotic, the mad, and the miserable" who make up what she called the human comedy. Not one to flatter or sentimentalize her subjects, Neel responded intuitively to the sitter and depicted what she saw and perceived. In psychologically intense images such as this portrait of the Venezuelan sculptor Marisol, Neel abandoned the traditional elements of rigorous naturalism, distorting and manipulating the relationship of form, perspective, line, color, and anatomy to create portraits of uncompromising directness.  Seated slightly askew with awkwardly crossed legs, her long fingers entangled and her sweater an agitated pattern of stripes, Marisol exudes tenseness. Her strong features, averted gaze, and bluntly cut hair all betray the intensity of her creative personality.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)

 

Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson, Jr., 1891

 

Oil on canvas

 

Purchase, 1969 (3584.1)

 

Seated on a stylish gilt sofa, Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Manson, Jr., looks out at the viewer with refined assurance. A woman of considerable wealth and social rank, Mrs. Manson received this portrait as a gift for hosting John Singer Sargent in her New York City home during the artist's second visit to the United States. Sargent, who trained in Paris but settled permanently in England, traveled twice to America to expand his reputation as the most sought-after society portraitist of his day. His popularity among the elite derived from his fluid brushwork, exquisite color harmonies, and remarkable ability both to reveal and to flatter the physical and psychological character of his sitters. Here, Sargent has lavished attention on Mrs. Manson's dress and decor, even as he carefully recorded her distinctive physiognomy.


Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828)

 

Governor John Brooks, 1820

 

Oil on wood panel

 

Gift of Mrs. Edward T. Harrison, in memory of her husband, Edward T. Harrison, 1965 (3370.1)

 

The preeminent portraitist in Federal America, Gilbert Stuart immortalized Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. This portrait of Massachusetts Governor John Brooks shows the Revolutionary War hero in military regalia, gazing out at the viewer with confidence and assurance. Brooks sits with the rigid formality befitting a man of stature, even as his likeness is animated by Stuart’s exuberant brushwork and vibrant colors. Indeed, Stuart has skillfully mastered the varying textures of Brooks’s gold uniform buttons, luxurious white necktie, and ruddy complexion. His fluid handling of pigments evolved from the European stylistic conventions that he learned as a student in England, as well from the example of British portrait painters such as Sir Joshua Reynolds.


John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)

 

Nathaniel Allen, 1763

 

Oil on canvas

 

Purchase, Frank C. Atherton Memorial Fund, 1976 (4376.1)

 

Boston's leading portrait painter before the Revolutionary War, John Singleton Copley famously captured the appearance and character of his subjects with straightforward and impartial realism. Each element in this portrait of Nathanial Allen, a successful merchant and respected citizen of Gloucester, Massachusetts, suggests the skill and confidence of the shrewd and exacting businessman. Allen is robust—an indication of his standing—and his work ethic is vigorous: on the table before him are a ledger and various documents, and he holds an open letter as if caught in the act of reading it. Far from an idealizing his sitter, Copley has rendered Allen with resolute candor—right down to the two large moles on his right cheek. In addition to Allen, Copley painted some of the most illustrious figures in American colonial history, including Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, both of whom he captured, like Allen, deeply engaged in their chosen vocations.


James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903)

 

Arrangement in Black No. 5: Lady Meux 1881

 

Oil on canvas

 

Purchase, Acquisition Fund, funds from public solicitation, Memorial Fund, and Robert Allerton Fund, 1967 (3490.1)

 

James McNeill Whistler was one of the foremost exponents of the Aesthetic movement in England, where he lived and worked for most of his life. Throughout his long and varied career, he tirelessly expressed a single objective: to free art from narrative constraints, literary references, political propaganda, and illusionism, and to allow it to operate according to its own unique aesthetic properties

 

This portrait of Lady Valerie Susie Meux is one of three that Whistler painted of the British socialite, each an elaboration of a limited palette of one or two colors. Wearing a magnificent black gown, Lady Meux poses against an equally dark ground, from which her ermine wrap and porcelain skin elegantly radiate. Less a study of the particularities of Lady Meux’s physical appearance than a meditation on the harmonious layering of white on black, this portrait—and Whistler’s oeuvre more generally—anticipates the abstraction that began to take shape within the European and American avant-gardes in the early 20th century.



Unidentified Artist (American, 19th century)

 

Portrait of A Woman, 19th century

 

Oil on canvas

 

Gift of Susan Palmore for the Estate of Betty Sterling, 2007 (13722.1)

 

The middle-class citizens of the newly formed United States of America often engaged itinerant folk artists to capture their likenesses for posterity.  These patrons could not afford to hire or did not have access to artists like Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley, whose works are also on view in this gallery.  Unlike Stuart and Copley, folk artists did not receive academic training and were largely self-taught.  The result, as seen in this portrait of an unidentified woman, is a work of art that may not depict the subject in the most anatomically correct manner (note the sitter’s small hands and uneven shoulders).  Nevertheless, the unknown artist records with great detail the sitter’s wrinkled face, as well as her need for glasses and interest in reading.

 

 

George Romney (British, 1734–1802)

 

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Haythorne, 1791

 

Oil on canvas

 

Gift of Reid and Charlotte Yates, 2010 (14260.1)

 

This work is a routine society portrait that served to capture the likeness of a young woman in the prime of her youth.  Romney, a popular though shy artist, specialized in these types of portraits and relied upon them for financial security.  In eighteenth-century London, the price of a portrait was based upon size and the degree of complicated sartorial or landscape elements in the composition.  The patron—in this case, probably Lady Elizabeth’s husband or father—would determine these elements in consultation with the artist.  Lady Elizabeth likely sat for Romney several times in his studio, so that he could paint her face directly from life.  Romney would complete the remainder of the composition—the sunset, the dramatic red curtain, her white gown—on his own, perhaps using a model or a mannequin.  Lady Elizabeth’s dress was probably a studio prop that she never actually wore, since versions of the gown appear in many of Romney’s portraits of young women.


Photography

 

Since its invention in the mid-19th century, photography has evolved into a dominant mode of representation, a viable means of communication, and a vehicle for the global transmission of culture. Portrait photography came into its own during the 20th century, establishing itself on the artistic, commercial, and even political fronts. Technological breakthroughs democratized its practice, transforming it into the dynamic and diverse medium that it is today. With the advent of the snapshot, photography became readily adaptable to personal use; as a result, portraiture became more intimate and less formal.

 

The selection of 20th-century portrait photographs displayed here and in the two adjacent cases in this gallery focuses on the exchange between subject, artist, and viewer, and serves as a microcosm of today’s media-rich society. While Paul Weiss’s image of a self-aware Andy Warhol and Mary Ellen Mark’s picture of circus elephant Shyama and her trainer echo traditional portraiture conventions in their concentration on the sitter’s face, others, such as André Kertész’s close-up of the hands of pianist Paul Arma and Marvin Israel’s fragmented reference to Elvis Presley’s celebrity persona, signify the sitter’s public identity by isolating key elements of talent and notoriety. Still others, such as William Wegman’s photograph of his dog, Man Ray, veil the identity of the sitter—whether successfully or not—through the artifice of disguise.

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894–1985)

Paul Arma's Hands and Glasses, Paris

1927

Gelatin silver contact print

Partial gift of Cherye and James F. Pierce,

2010 (31597)

 

Paul Weiss (American)

Andy Warhol, 1979

Gelatin silver print

Gift of James Paulauskas, 1986 (19635)

 


William Wegman (American, born 1943)

Ol' Blue Eyes, 1982

Gelatin silver print with ink and acrylic

Volunteer's Choice Purchase, 1987 (19769)

 


Marvin Israel (American, 1924–1984)

Elvis Presley Performing, 1957

Gelatin silver print

Gift of Lawrence and Sally Israel, 1988 (20406)

Mary Ellen Mark (American, born 1941)

Ram Prakash Singh with His Elephant Shyama, Great Golden Circus, Ahmedabad, India, from the series Indian Circus, 1990

Platinum print

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gulab Watumull, 1994 (25429)

Photography

Since its invention in the mid-19th century, photography has evolved into a dominant mode of representation, a viable means of communication, and a vehicle for the global transmission of culture. Portrait photography came into its own during the 20th century, establishing itself on the artistic, commercial, and even political fronts. Technological breakthroughs democratized its practice, transforming it into the dynamic and diverse medium that it is today. With the advent of the snapshot, photography became readily adaptable to personal use; as a result, portraiture became more intimate and less formal.

 

The selection of 20th-century portrait photographs displayed here and in the two adjacent cases in this gallery focuses on the exchange between subject, artist, and viewer, and serves as a microcosm of today’s media-rich society. While Paul Weiss’s image of a self-aware Andy Warhol and Mary Ellen Mark’s picture of circus elephant Shyama and her trainer echo traditional portraiture conventions in their concentration on the sitter’s face, others, such as André Kertész’s close-up of the hands of pianist Paul Arma and Marvin Israel’s fragmented reference to Elvis Presley’s celebrity persona, signify the sitter’s public identity by isolating key elements of talent and notoriety. Still others, such as William Wegman’s photograph of his dog, Man Ray, veil the identity of the sitter—whether successfully or not—through the artifice of disguise.

 

 

 

 

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