The Portrait Transformed explores the evolution of portraiture from final quarter of the 1700s until the present. In contrast to earlier portraiture, which aimed to flatter the rich and powerful, the invigorating new artistic movements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – including Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Realism – promoted an interest in the “unvarnished truth.” The portraits created during this period were, accordingly, marked by a more honest and gritty incisiveness. In the twentieth century, individuality and the “personality” of the sitter characterized portraiture as a whole, whatever a specific practitioner’s broader stylistic association (including Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, or Realism).
One of driving forces behind this evolution was the invention of photography at the end of the 1830s. This new technology – which led the academic painter Paul Delaroche to lament, “[f]rom today, painting is dead” –not only catalyzed a whole new genre of image-making, it also liberated painters from the need to create mere likenesses through their art. Despite the Delaroche’s trepidations, the advent of photography did not signal painting’s demise but rather freed artists from the chore of mimetic representation. This in turn opened up a limitless range of fresh aesthetic opportunities as well as new spaces for the creative imagination, which assumed a much more prominent role in visual representation generally and portraiture in particular. The Portrait Transformedcharts this evolution through the many fine works on view.
This exhibition features 151 rare portrait drawings and oil sketches. Among the highlights are a late eighteenth-century work by Jacques-Louis David, four works by Lucian Freud, and Aubrey Beardsley’s decadent India ink portrait of Oscar Wilde.The Portrait Transformed also boasts a fine range of self-portraits, many of which are expressed metaphorically (including Adolph Menzel’s right hand drawn by his left hand and Maximilien Luce’s self-portrait as his hand against the prison wall during his 1894 incarceration on suspicion of anarchy). Also included is Alfred Hitchcock’s famous profile seen by millions in the introduction to his television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated brochure, which features an engaging essay by Robert Flynn Johnson. Extended labels and text panels by Johnson provide further insight into the works and contextualizes them fully.
The Portrait Transformed: Drawings & Oil Sketches from Jacques Louis David to Lucian Freud is organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA, in association with Denenberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood, CA.