Life Stories: American Portraits Past and Present
The artist’s task in creating an exceptional portrait must be more than rendering an accurate likeness of the subject. The artist must find a story to tell about the subject and make that story compelling. Formal portraits typically focus on the public aspects of an individual’s life, such as their position in a family or society or their celebrated accomplishments and honors. Portraits can also be informal, revealing aspects of the sitter’s private interests, friendships and emotional life. Life Stories: American Portraits Past and Present features paintings, photographs and sculpture spanning a period of over two hundred years. The exhibition explores how styles and purposes of portraiture have changed over time, reflecting changing social values and the shift of emphasis from formal to casual representations of the individual. Early American paintings by Benjamin West, Rembrandt Peale and William Hubard include formal portraits of distinguished individuals, families and military heroes and reveal much about the history and social values of the period. From the late 19th and early 20th centuries are portraits by John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam and Robert Henri. These artists are represented with portraits of friends and acquaintances that are painted with engaging warmth that expresses the bond between artist and subject. Cindy Sherman, Elizabeth Peyton and Anneè Olofsson are among the contemporary artists represented in the exhibition. These important artists have used portraiture to explore issues of identity, psychology and spirituality that go beyond individual character. For these artists, portraiture is an opportunity to make broader statements about culture and society. These contemporary artists demonstrate that portraiture remains a vital tradition still open to new and creative possibilities.