Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Capital Portraits: Treasures from Washington Private Collections

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through September 5, 2011

Most of the pieces in this show have never been exhibited before, as they reside in private collections. People have inherited these pieces, or purchased them for their artistic merit or sat for them, but none of them belong to museums. The time periods displayed run through the colonial period through to the present day, and one gets a look at the changes in portraiture along with the portraits themselves.

One that caught my eye was of a family of women, a Mrs. Church, her daughter and her daughter-in-law. They are pictured sitting together, the daughter-in-law handing Mrs. Church a letter, which family history suggests was information that Mrs. Church's son, the daughter-in-law's husband, was in fact not her husband at all. He had been proved a bigamist, as his divorce from his first wife was never finalized. Why, I wondered would one wish to have this moment painted?

Another piece was of Phoebe Caroline Elliott Pinckney - I was struck by her resemblance to Jacqueline Kennedy. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, was it the expression, the smile, the eyes? Whatever it was, I found the likeness uncanny.

I also saw a sculpture by Hiram Powers, whose scultpure The Greek Slave was much discussed in the exhibit notes for the Capitoline Venus - nothing like having one's lessons reinforced.

Another piece of interest is a small picture of Mamie Eisenhower, done by Dwight Eisenhower. It's not great art, but he managed to get her expression very well, and isn't that what portraiture is all about?

Verdict: A nice show, but quite large. In order to do this in a lunch hour, you'll have to resist the urge to dawdle.

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