CONTEMPLATING CHARACTER: Portrait Drawings & Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud, is now available for circulation to museums worldwide through 2023. The exhibition premiered at the Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, Florida in 2015, followed by exhibitions at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, Florida, in February, 2016, and in 2018 at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN.
The exhibition explores the evolution of portraiture from the end of the 18th century until the present. In contrast to portraiture as the tired flattery of the rich and powerful at the end of the eighteenth century, the invigorating new movements of Neoclassicism, Romanticism and Realism that took hold of art at the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century were the result of a desire for a sense of “unvarnished truth,” and a more honest and gritty incisiveness of depiction emerged. By the twentieth century, the hallmark of the portrait was individuality; the sense of “personality” was primary, whether stylistically Post-Impressionist, Expressionist, Surrealist, or Realist.
One of the primary drivers of this evolution was the invention of photography at the end of the 1830s; it freed creative artists from the necessity of providing mere likeness through their art, to the degree that Paul Delaroche said, “From today, painting is dead.” He was wrong, of course—the competition of photography simply freed artists from the chore of representation, allowing imagination to rule. It this evolution that CONTEMPLATING CHARACTER clearly demonstrates with stunning examples.
152 rare portrait drawings and oil sketches are featured, ranging from a late 18th century work by Jacques Louis David to four works by Lucian Freud, and including many remarkable works such as a French Revolution portrait of George Washington all of one half inch high; an unusual caricature of Charles Garnier (1825-1898,) the famed architect of the Paris Opera; an English portrait miniature circa 1810 depicting a single eye; a self-portrait reflected in a glass, part of a still life by Auguste-Hilaire Leveille; and a self-portrait by Louis-Joseph-Cesar Ducomet (French 1806-1856,) an artist born without arms!
Additionally the collection shows remarkable strength in self-portraits, ireverently including such works as Alfred Hitchcock’s famous profile seen by millions at the introduction to the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1955—1962,) and Aubrey Beardsley’s decadent India ink portrait of Oscar Wilde.
The works are divided into seven sections:
[ 1 ] ARTIST SELF-PORTRAITS – (46): including Gustave Dore, Richard (“Mad”) Dadd, Adolf von Menzel, Roderic O’Conor, Antonio Mancini, Edouard Vuillard, Leon Spillaert , Frank Brangwyn, Dora Maar, David Levine, and Alfred Hitchcock.
[ 2 ] PORTRAITS OF ARTISTS – (11 works): including portraits of Jacques-Louis David by Delafontaine and J. B. Isabey, Henry Fuseli by William Etty, William Blake by George Richmond, Samuel Palmer by John Linnel, John Ruskin by Samuel Laurence, Odilon Redon by Claude-Emile Schuffenecker, Alfred von Menzel by William Rothenstein, Max Klinger by Emil Orlik, and Thomas Eakins by Mrs. Palmer
[ 3 ] FAMILY – Portraits of wives, lovers, children, close friends (22 works):- including Sir Thomas Lawrence , John Linnell, Francis Danby, Daniel Maclise, Adolf von Menzel, Edward Burne Jones, George Bellows, Lucien Freud
[ 4 ]UNKNOWN SITTERS AS SUBJECTS – Intense visual interest of the sitter (20 works): including Louis-Léopold Boilly, Théodore Chasseriau , William Mulready, Richard Dadd, Adolf von Menzel, Jean-Jacques Henner
[ 5 ] FAME – Portraits of famous individuals (12):-including George Washington, André Chenier, Washington Irving, Ellen André, Henry Irving, Oscar Wilde
[ 6 ] DRAMA AND IMAGINATION – A wide range of imagery (26): including “Ossian” by Baron Gerard and Girodet, an “eye” miniature circa 1820, 9 silhouettes by the great Auguste Edouart of the evangelist Charles Simeon preaching (it’s like a stop action movie!), 27 portrait sketches on a single page by Richard Dadd, Nicholas Sternberg’s 1927 drawing of a morphine addict shooting up, & two amazing drawings by R. Crumb
 REPOSE and ENDINGS- Individuals sleeping (5): including William Henry Hunt, Théodore Rousseau, Hans Bellmer, Lucian Freud. – Images of death or impending death (9): including a haunting Carpeaux self-portrait in the year he died, and an anonymous drawing
A Full Color Hardcover 160 Page Catalog Is Available
All of the works are drawn from the collection of esteemed curator, Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
A catalogue has been published for the exhibition featuring an essay by Robert F. Johnson. Label and text panel documents are for printing.
The exhibition is organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, in association with Denenberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood.