Friday, April 10, 2015

Essence of Portraiture
Vanessa Morales, Senior, 2015

How can both the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci and a selfie posted on Instagram by a high school classmate both be considered portraits?

A portrait aims to display a likeness or essence of a person.  Even if a person changes or ages, the portrait will not alter. As Andy Warhol said, “Art never changes, even if people do.”  A portrait can easily tell a story or suggest much about the person or persons within it, even without capturing an exact resemblance.

Some of the earliest known portraits in existence were the 3rd century BC Fayum mummy portraits. These bright, supremely preserved portraits covered the faces of those being mummified for burial.  Although the bodies would decay, the portraits allowed the buried to live forever, unchanged, possessing a sense of permanence. These portraits were painted in encaustic directly onto the coffins of the buried, and have since been removed and placed in museums across the globe.  Since then, portraiture has changed, but the essence of remembrance and honoring those depicted has remained.  Portraits are everywhere: coins, caricatures, statues, billboards, paintings, and photographs.
Currently on display at Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is a show entitled Luminaries: Portraits from the GW Permanent Collection.  The exhibition displays portraits in various mediums highlighting an eclectic collection, including screen prints, photographs, oil paintings, and even a cast iron medallion.
Near the entrance of the exhibit sit the works of Aline Fruhauf.  Her unique approach to portraits comes in the form of woodcut prints.  Alice Longworth, Aldous Huxley, and nine Supreme Court Justices are portrayed in caricature.  Posthumously, her memoir named Making Faces stated, “Caricature was not only a respectable form of art but also a valuable way of documenting human beings.”

Observing the caricature of Alice Longworth by Aline Fruhauf may raise the question: how can it be a portrait if there is no *real* likeness?  This caricature is a woodblock print of a woman who faces away from the viewer, hidden under a chic hat.  One might argue that the vagueness of this person might not make it a portrait at all. Ms. Longworth is dressed in a fashionable dress and with matching accessories of handbag, gloves, heels, and a hat.  Although her face is turned away, the essence of Alice Longworth’s lavish but unconventional and controversial life is indeed captured through her beautiful wardrobe and unreachable persona.  Beneath her caricature is a note by the artist: “Mrs. Longworth facing Dupont Circle,” a neighborhood certainly frequented by her with all of its shops and restaurants.
    
Turning to an oil painting on the other end of the hall, there is a painting by Umberto Romano. This piece, entitled Dostoevsky, appears even further removed than Fruhauf’s portrait.  The canvas of black, red, and yellow paint embellished by swirls of neon colors and dreamlike brush strokes could easily be mistaken for abstract expressionism.  Then something happens.  Upon further inspection of the seemingly spontaneous brush strokes, the shapes in the blue paint towards the bottom center slowly start to take the form of a nose. The eyes of the viewer register a large blue hand and then the other, when suddenly, the impulsive brush strokes become very deliberate, and the portrait of the writer comes forward.  It is difficult to even recognize that there is indeed a figure within this painting, which, like the previous work, begs the question of whether or not it could actually be considered a portrait. 

Romano attempts to capture the spirit of Dostoyevsky, who wrote much about human psychology and existentialism, by visually representing these ideas in this convoluted portrait.

Whether it is the Mona Lisa, Howard Finster’s George at 23, or a 4th grade photograph, the persona of a subject of portraiture is not necessarily seen only through the likeness of the sitter. As we have seen, there are many examples where the spirit of the person is portrayed rather than just superficially.

Luminaries: Portraits for the GW Permanent Collection is on view in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, MPA Bldg., 2nd floor until April 24, 2015. 






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Covering exhibits at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery and giving you a peek into the Permanent Collection of the George Washington University.

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Friday, April 10, 2015

Essence of Portraiture
Vanessa Morales, Senior, 2015

How can both the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci and a selfie posted on Instagram by a high school classmate both be considered portraits?

A portrait aims to display a likeness or essence of a person.  Even if a person changes or ages, the portrait will not alter. As Andy Warhol said, “Art never changes, even if people do.”  A portrait can easily tell a story or suggest much about the person or persons within it, even without capturing an exact resemblance.

Some of the earliest known portraits in existence were the 3rd century BC Fayum mummy portraits. These bright, supremely preserved portraits covered the faces of those being mummified for burial.  Although the bodies would decay, the portraits allowed the buried to live forever, unchanged, possessing a sense of permanence. These portraits were painted in encaustic directly onto the coffins of the buried, and have since been removed and placed in museums across the globe.  Since then, portraiture has changed, but the essence of remembrance and honoring those depicted has remained.  Portraits are everywhere: coins, caricatures, statues, billboards, paintings, and photographs.
Currently on display at Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is a show entitled Luminaries: Portraits from the GW Permanent Collection.  The exhibition displays portraits in various mediums highlighting an eclectic collection, including screen prints, photographs, oil paintings, and even a cast iron medallion.
Near the entrance of the exhibit sit the works of Aline Fruhauf.  Her unique approach to portraits comes in the form of woodcut prints.  Alice Longworth, Aldous Huxley, and nine Supreme Court Justices are portrayed in caricature.  Posthumously, her memoir named Making Faces stated, “Caricature was not only a respectable form of art but also a valuable way of documenting human beings.”

Observing the caricature of Alice Longworth by Aline Fruhauf may raise the question: how can it be a portrait if there is no *real* likeness?  This caricature is a woodblock print of a woman who faces away from the viewer, hidden under a chic hat.  One might argue that the vagueness of this person might not make it a portrait at all. Ms. Longworth is dressed in a fashionable dress and with matching accessories of handbag, gloves, heels, and a hat.  Although her face is turned away, the essence of Alice Longworth’s lavish but unconventional and controversial life is indeed captured through her beautiful wardrobe and unreachable persona.  Beneath her caricature is a note by the artist: “Mrs. Longworth facing Dupont Circle,” a neighborhood certainly frequented by her with all of its shops and restaurants.
    
Turning to an oil painting on the other end of the hall, there is a painting by Umberto Romano. This piece, entitled Dostoevsky, appears even further removed than Fruhauf’s portrait.  The canvas of black, red, and yellow paint embellished by swirls of neon colors and dreamlike brush strokes could easily be mistaken for abstract expressionism.  Then something happens.  Upon further inspection of the seemingly spontaneous brush strokes, the shapes in the blue paint towards the bottom center slowly start to take the form of a nose. The eyes of the viewer register a large blue hand and then the other, when suddenly, the impulsive brush strokes become very deliberate, and the portrait of the writer comes forward.  It is difficult to even recognize that there is indeed a figure within this painting, which, like the previous work, begs the question of whether or not it could actually be considered a portrait. 

Romano attempts to capture the spirit of Dostoyevsky, who wrote much about human psychology and existentialism, by visually representing these ideas in this convoluted portrait.

Whether it is the Mona Lisa, Howard Finster’s George at 23, or a 4th grade photograph, the persona of a subject of portraiture is not necessarily seen only through the likeness of the sitter. As we have seen, there are many examples where the spirit of the person is portrayed rather than just superficially.

Luminaries: Portraits for the GW Permanent Collection is on view in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, MPA Bldg., 2nd floor until April 24, 2015. 






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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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