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Posts Tagged ‘portraits’

The Inquisitive Fallacy

May 23, 2014 | by

A professor’s unlikely quest for busts of Alexander Pope.

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Unknown photographer, William Kurtz Wimsatt, circa 1961, © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, c. 1760, marble, Rothschild Foundation

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Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, 1741, marble, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Paul Mellon in memory of the British art historian Basil Taylor (1922-1975)

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Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, c. 1738, terracotta, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

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Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, c. 1760, plaster, The Trustees of the British Museum

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Louis François Roubiliac, Alexander Pope, 1738, marble, Temple Newsam House, Leeds

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Joseph Nickolls, Pope’s Villa, Twickenham, c. 1755, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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Adrien Carpentiers, Louis François Roubiliac Modelling His Monument to Shakespeare, between 1760 and 1761, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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Studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Alexander Pope Profile, Crowned with Ivy, c. 1721, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Margaret Wimsatt in memory of William Kurtz Wimsatt Jr.

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Alexander Pope, The works of Mr. Alexander Pope, Vol I (London: Printed by W. Bowyer, for Bernard Lintot between the Temple-Gates, 1717), title page, frontispiece of Pope by Vertue after Jervas, inside front cover, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac, and the Portrait Bust in Eighteen-Century Britain,” recently on view at the Yale Center for British Art, tells a curious tale of Alexander Pope’s legacy, focusing on the strange fervor that continues to surround busts and portraits of him. Pope, whose birthday was earlier this week, was a household name, at least in one sector of British society. He was the first English poet to publish two volumes of his own collected works while living—and with the publication of the first volume, he also became the first English author to sustain himself entirely on the proceeds of his work. And he didn’t lead a meager existence. Pope was able to lease a sizable villa near Richmond, a painting of which was on view in Yale’s exhibition.

For any writer, these achievements would’ve been no small feat, but they’re especially impressive in light of Pope’s many obstacles. He was a Catholic at a time when Catholics weren’t allowed to live within ten miles of London or Westminster or to attend university; and he was beset with health problems that led to a visible hunchback and permanently stunted his height. Even so, Pope became a celebrated member of the British literary canon—someone whose very image evoked intellectual achievement.

Paintings and busts of Pope were commissioned for wealthy families and artistic friends—they conferred status among men of letters. According to Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor of Theater and English at Yale, when Voltaire visited England in 1727, he marveled that he saw Pope’s portrait in “twenty noblemen’s houses.” The placement of these busts was telling of the poet’s reputation; he was displayed with such notable British intellectuals as Laurence Sterne and Isaac Newton.

“Fame and Friendship” assembled an intriguing array of these busts, made of stately marble or—in the case of a petite, mass-produced work—porcelain. At the center of the collection are eight busts of Pope by French émigré sculptor Louis François Roubiliac, created between 1738 and 1760. Though they were made over the course of twenty-two years, they carry certain hallmarks: a telltale droop beneath Pope’s eyes, a marked thinness in his cheeks, an inquisitive gaze, and a slender nose. In Roubiliac’s skillful hands, the signs of Pope’s infirmity are presented instead as characteristics befitting a poetic countenance, with all the sensitivity that poetry implies. Read More »

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The Dark Galleries

May 2, 2014 | by

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Portrait of Ballin Mundson; Gilda (Charles Vidor, Columbia, 1946)

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Portrait of Mr. Antony, Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, Warner Brothers, 1951, painted by Ted Haworth)

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Portrait of Azeals Van Ryn, Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Twentieth Century Fox, 1946)

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Portrait of Jennie Appleton, Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, Selznick Productions, 1948, painted by Robert Brackman)

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Portrait of Pandora Reynolds, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Albert Lewin, MGM, 1951, painted by Ferdie Bellan)

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Portrait of Matilda Frazier, The Unsuspected (Michael Curtiz, Warner Brothers, 1947)

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Portrait of an Unknown Woman, The Dark Corner (Henry Hathaway, Twentieth Century Fox, 1946)

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Portrait of Alice Reed, The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, International Pictures, 1944)

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Second Portrait of Sally Morton, The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, 1947, Warner Brothers, painted by John Decker)

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Portrait of a Murderer, The Big Clock (John Farrow, Paramount, 1948)

The noir and gothic films of the forties and fifties often feature beguiling portraits, paintings that possess a strange power; they inspire acts of fraud, forgery, theft, murder, and obsession. Think of The Woman in the Window, Laura, or Vertigo: in the first few scenes of each film, a kind of investigator becomes enraptured with a woman who also appears in a painted portrait—and, often, the twist reveals that she’s not who she seems to be. In Laura, the portrait itself stands in for the woman who’s supposedly disappeared, as Detective Mark McPherson investigates the crime—until, that is, Laura walks into her old apartment, where the detective is sleeping beneath the portrait that so intrigued him. The portrait serves as a kind of false look, or false double, that only can really be appreciated on film.

The artists who created these portraits—usually just large-scale photographs slapped with varnish—typically went uncredited; today most of the portraits themselves have gone missing. In The Dark Galleries: A Museum Guide to Painted Portraits in Film Noir Gothic Melodramas and Ghost Stories of the 1940s and 1950s, the art and film historians Steven Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert have created a guide to an imaginary gallery of these imaginary paintings, which often took imaginary people as their subjects.

What interested Jacobs most was not so much the portraits themselves, but the roles they played in their respective films: they reflected how people thought they should behave in front of pieces of art. The plots of these films often came from classic literature or standard noir fare, but it was film techniques that brought the paintings into more direct conversation with the narrative. Read More »

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Movie Novelization Is a Dying Art, and Other News

February 24, 2014 | by

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Pirate Queen: In the Studio with June Glasson

August 1, 2012 | by

Years ago, while biding my time at a doctor’s office, fortuitously flipping through a stack of well-exhausted magazines, I spotted an article on affordable portraiture. June Glasson was one of the featured artists, and I scribbled her name down and contacted her later to do a drawing of my better half as part of her “Near and Dear” series. My husband and I had many times joked about how we wished we were royalty, deserving of grand portraits. June captured my husband so completely that I’m sometimes taken aback by the likeness. My twin toddlers frequently point to it and announce “Da-da!” with great delight.

June was a natural choice to do illustrations to accompany Rich Cohen’s “Pirate City” essay in the current issue. I’m drawn to her gorgeous layers of colored ink that make using this unforgiving medium look easy. She paints landscapes and people with equal charm and interest. As June lives in Wyoming, she was kind enough to be interviewed via e-mail and to send photographs of an enviable studio space filled with natural light and plenty of inspiration.

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