Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Awkward American Portraits

The artwork here has been quite Euro-centric, so I decided it was time to look at some good old-fashioned American art.  Recently Amy over at Kid-Free Living (who is hilarious and you should go read her blog!) found some gems at the National Gallery in DC, which pointed me in the direction of their website.  A vast trove of materials awaited!  The 19th century seems to have been a golden age for awkward portraiture.

Mrs. Harlow A. Pease – Erastus Salisbury Field, 1837 (Source)
The 19th century was a period before closets were invented, so women were forced to wear all of their clothes stuffed into their sleeves and tied under their skirts.  Unused lace curtains were turned into attractive head and shoulder coverings.

Interior Scene - 1840

At this time, people had hands and feet a fraction of the size that they do today.  Books were made in miniature to accommodate tiny fingers.  Also, perspective did not exist yet.
Girl with Reticule and Rose – Joseph Whiting Stock, 1840
Terribly awkward haircuts for children did exist, however, along with the child’s resultant seething being immortalized in paint.
Mary and Francis Wilcox – Joseph Whiting Stock, 1845

 “Please can we go now, Mummy?  Little Francis Green-Dress wants to take her dollhouse sledding and teach me how to hover an inch off the ground like she does.”
Eliza Welch Stone – Thomas Skynner, 1845

I assume Eliza divided her free time between flower arranging to maintain a veneer of femininity, and being a linebacker.  She needed to be careful about getting her portrait done when her five o'clock shadow was showing, though.
Charles H. Sisson – Joseph Goodhue Chandler, 1850
Little Charles already excelled in the art of beating the livestock and servants by the age of five.  
Plains Indian – J.W. Bradshaw, 19th century
So I imagine Mr. Bradshaw was trying to show respect in painting the portrait of this individual.  Unfortunately his face seems to be melting a bit.  On the plus side, his portrait later served as inspiration for the Muppet Workshop.

I think the winner for Most Awkward American Portrait this round, however, goes to Edward Hicks, for his “Portrait of a Child.” 

Yes, that face will haunt you for the rest of the day.  You’re welcome!

The old saying goes, those who can’t do, write snarky blog posts about those who at least attempt to do.  I confess I once tried my hand at doing a self-portrait, with a Technicolor result that would have made Picasso scratch his head.  The difference is that my work didn’t wind up in the National Gallery.