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Posts tagged ‘portrait’

ArtSmart Roundtable – Types of Self Portraits

Norman Rockwell Triple Self Portrait 1960

Norman Rockwell, “Triple Self Portrait”, 1960 (Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA)

It’s the beginning of November and time for the monthly ArtSmart Roundtable in which several art history-loving travelers post on a theme.  You can see links at the bottom to the other posts in the group.  I’ve always loved portraiture, but for November’s ArtSmart Roundtable on art genre’s, I am going to focus on a special kind of portrait – the self-portrait.

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The Face of George Washington

US 1 dollarThanks to the US $1, George Washington has one of the most recognizable faces in America.  This President’s Day, I got to thinking about that portrait and two excellent exhibits I saw a few years ago at Mount Vernon and the National Gallery about the real likeness of George Washington.

Gilbert Stuart – “George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait)” 1796, Museum of Fine Arts Boston and National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

The dollar and a large number of contemporary and future Washington paintings are based on an unfinished portrait done by Gilbert Stuart in 1796.  At the time of the sitting, George was 64 and retired to Mount Vernon.  His teeth had been a constant source of pain since the first one was extracted when he was 22.  When he started his presidency, only one real tooth remained in his head.  Several sets of dentures were made for Washington over his life by incorporating human teeth and carved bone or tusk teeth into a metal cage.  None these were reported to have fit well and must have caused him considerable discomfort.

George Washington's only complete set of false teeth on display at Mount Vernon

George Washington’s only complete set of false teeth on display at Mount Vernon (Photo: Mount Vernon Museum)

On the day Washington sat for Gilbert Stuart, he was struggling with a set of false teeth.  Stuart notes, “When I painted him, he had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which accounts for the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face.”  Look back at Stuart’s portrait. Washington’s jaw does appears to be clenched, pushed somewhat forward and bulky.  This immediately recognizable portrait is likely not the most realistic.

Jean Antoine Houdon - George Washington mask

Jean-Antoine Houdon “Life Mask of George Washington” 1785 (Photo: The Morgan Library and Museum, New York City)

Eleven years before the Stuart portrait, sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon met with Washington a made a life mask – a process in which plaster is applied to a face for an accurate sculptural model.  This likeness seems less tense and the jaw line less protruded.

Many Faces of George Washington

Cover of “Many Faces of George Washington” by Carla Killough McClafferty describing the Mount Vernon portrait project

This life mask and the bust Houdon made from it were used by Mount Vernon to create “the real George Washington”.  Through an interesting forensic anthropology project, the sculptures an other artifacts were scanned, analyzed and used to construct three wax faces meant to represent George Washington at 19, 45 and 57 year of age.  Life-sized figures were created by examining existing clothing and written descriptions of the Washington’s posture.  (You can watch a short video about the process done by the History Channel here.)  The end result is incredibly impressive.  The three Washington figures were one my favorite parts of visiting Mount Vernon as they help piece together a more life-like representation an American legends.

Young George Washington

A George Washington we are not used to seeing – 19 year old likeness reconstructed from historical and scientific evidence by Mount Vernon

My perfect portrait

Françoise GilotWhen I started DaydreamTourist, Picasso’s portrait of Françoise Gilot was a convenient logo.  I even joked in the About section that this is what I look like if he had painted me.  But that got me thinking.  Of all artists past and present, who would I want to create my portrait?

I should say I have always loved portraiture.  The end result is a blend of both how the sitter (or their family) wanted the individual to be represented, what society valued at the time, maybe some of what the artist thinks of the subject and, if you’re lucky, a realistic likeness of someone who once existed.

Domenico Ghirlandaio “Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni” is a lesson in wealth and virtue as an elegantly put together woman sits amid her possessions.  Her rigidity reflects her status which is emphasized by the inscription, O art, if thou were able to depict the conduct and soul, no lovelier painting would exist on earth.

Domenico Ghirlandaio - Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni

Domenico Ghirlandaio “Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni” 1489-1490, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

There is something to be said for sentimentality and tenderness.  For example, Norman Rockwell’s Richard Nixon seems friendly, familiar and just a tad endearing.

Normal Rockwell - Richard Nixon

Norman Rockwell “Richard Nixon”, 1968, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Many of my favorite masters of realism worked during the Northern Renaissance and produced luminous life-like figures.

Portrait of a Man in a red turban by Jan van Eyck

Jan van Eyck, “The Portrait of a Man” (or “Portrait of a Man in a Turban”)  1433, National Gallery, London

Without a doubt though, I would want my portrait done by John Singer Sargent.  I have heard it said that Sargent liked painting women and it shows in his work.  Looking at his pieces, you start to understand the personality of his subject through quirks in their poses, faces or the portrait’s composition.  I have also admired the fluidity and range of his brushwork moving from well executed facial features to impressionistic clothing and abstracted backgrounds.

John Singer Sargent "Lady Agnew of Lochnaw"

John Singer Sargent “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw”, 1892-93 National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

John Singer Sargent "Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes"

John Singer Sargent “Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes” 1897, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

John Singer Sargent, "Miss Elsie Palmer"

John Singer Sargent, “Miss Elsie Palmer”, 1889-90, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

John Singer Sargent - Mrs. Edward Darley Boit

John Singer Sargent, “Mrs. Edward Darley Boit” 1887, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

John Singer Sargent “Miss Helen Dunham”, private collection

john singer sargent  - beatrice townsend

John Singer Sargent, “Beatrice Townsend” 1882, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

I suppose I should also point out that his portraits of men were really amazing too.

John Singer Sargent - Robert Louis Stevenson

John Singer Sargent, “Robert Louis Stevenson” 1887  The Taft Museum, Cincinnati

John Singer Sargent - Arthur James Balfor

John Singer Sargent, “Arthur James Balfor” 1908, National Portrait Gallery, London

John Singer Sargent - Frederick Law Olmsted

John Singer Sargent “Frederick Law Olmsted”, 1895, Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina

Thanks to the John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery for images and inspiration.

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