The second in a series of three exhibitions featuring artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, Revealing Character is a survey of portraits spanning a period of nearly four hundred years. From a pair of masterful etchings by Jacques Callot, 1617, to Sanford Biggers’ Cheshire Smile, 2008, this exhibition offers diverse approaches to the art of portraiture––the depiction of self and the other––by thirty-three artists. In addition, this time span roughly parallels the evolution of portraiture in Western art, enabling viewers to examine the subject through the museum’s collection
Fittingly, this exhibition begins in the Renaissance at the very moment formal portraiture is introduced in Europe. Among the earliest works are Carlo Lasinio’s copies of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterful drawings of Grotesque Heads originally executed circa 1480-1510. Other highlights in the early chronology include François Boucher’s delicate studies of fashionable women after paintings by Watteau (1740), Honoré Daumier’s scathing caricatures of nineteenth-century French society and the elegant, decorative Art Nouveau portraits of American artist, Will H. Bradley.
Throughout the twentieth century, the art of portraiture reflects rapidly changing tastes and a new spirit of freedom, experimentation and directness. Powerful prints by Expressionist artists, Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Kirchner and George Grosz comment on the human condition and explore the depths of the human psyche. The psychological portrait reaches new heights of intensity in the work of Alberto Giacometti, Salvador Dali, Leonard Baskin and Werner Drewes.
With the proliferation of globalization and information technology in recent years, the definition of portraiture has expanded exponentially, breaking with traditional means of expression and enabling artists to tackle complex and often controversial subjects. Kara Walker’s pop-up book of black paper silhouetted portraits reprises the history of slavery in the American South. Takashi Murakami’s cartoon character, Mr. Wink, riffs on Japanese popular culture, and Sanford Biggers explores racial stereotypes with a three-dimensional stand-in for the blackface performers in minstrel shows.
Artists have long used portraiture in all its manifestations as a way of examining the transiency and relevancy of human existence. Although this exhibition is not a comprehensive survey of the history of portraiture, this sampling from the museum’s permanent collection is both a summary and a celebration of its many treasures.