Saturday, October 15, 2016

Some Questions for the Portrait Gallery

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through October 16 & 30, 2016

I spent my museum-going time this week at the Portrait Gallery, which is located a block away from my office.  On Wednesday, I took a close look at this painting of the four female Supreme Court justices.  I've walked past it often in the three years it's been on display, but hadn't really taken the time to stop and examine it.

It's a very interesting painting - lots of windows.  There's the large window to the right, in which one can see many more windows, plus the mirror on the wall behind the justices.  In the reflection, there appears to be a door or window.   The painter, Nelson Shanks, drew on Dutch portraiture conventions, according to the wall notes; does this explain the windows?

Each portrait is very good individually, and they work well together.  That's an advantage over photography - everyone looks their best.  The notes also say that the setting is based on Supreme Court interiors and a courtyard.  Does this mean the location is real, or not?  Is this another example of the "view painting" - where the artist creates the location?

I'm sorry to see this painting leave the museum and am hoping that its owners will decide to give the piece to the Portrait Gallery at some point.  I'll be happy to have them back anytime. 

I returned to the Portrait Gallery on Friday, intending to see the "Recent Acquisitions" exhibit and the portrait of Arnold Palmer in the "In Memoriam" space.  And this is where my questions come up:  first of all, where's Arnie?  I walked all over the first floor, but couldn't locate him.  I think the show of jazz portraits has taken up the "In Memoriam" space, but in that case, don't list it on the website!  Weird.  It's supposed to be up until the end of the month, so I've got a little time.

My other question is about the recent acquisitions.  I don't think they're so recent.  I saw the Neil DeGrasse Tyson piece, which I've seen for a long time now.  Don't get me wrong: I'm a big Tyson fan and couldn't be happier that his portrait is in the collection, but it's not new.  Also, the painting of Hank Aaron is something I've seen before.  And those weren't the only familiar faces.  So what's up?  I had thought that these would be works acquired in the past six months, but perhaps it's more expansive than that?  Perhaps I just need to treat this not so much as an exhibit, but as a way to get a quick look at things that are new-ish.

Verdict: Portrait Gallery is always worth a look, and it's close by, so even if it's just a walk around, it's a nice break in my day.

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