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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman


A straightforward definition of portraiture can be difficult to pin down, as an artist’s intentions can vary widely based on the expectations of an individual sitter, culturally specific ideals of beauty, and the artistic styles in vogue at a particular moment. Through time we find highly variable treatments of sitters, ranging from the acutely realistic to the nearly unrecognizably flattering. Wicar’s three portraits of unidentified sitters and Hoin’s portrait of an anonymous man seem to tread a moderate path between the two extremes: despite their carefully rendered complexions, they are all depicted as unique individuals with bright eyes, and each conveys the sense of a frank, momentary encounter with a distinctive personality, qualities highly prized in French eighteenth-century society.

Tiepolo’s Head of a Youth also seems caught in a split second and may depict an assistant in his studio. Drawn in red chalk, not the usual pen and wash or black chalk of a Tiepolo figure study, it most likely served as a model for training exercises for apprentices. Van Loo’s Portrait with a Chalkholder also demonstrates its creator’s prowess as a draughtsman; instead of setting an example for students to aspire to, however, this self-portrait, and particularly the print it is modeled on, served as a vehicle for self-promotion. In the print, done in the new crayon manner, which could accurately reproduce chalk drawings, an inscription at the bottom identifies Van Loo as painter to the king and dedicates the image to his wife. By depicting himself with the chalk he used to make the drawing and pointing to the location of the missing inscription, Van Loo emphasizes both his skill with the medium and the reward he has reaped for his abilities. As with many portraits to this day, Van Loo’s own self-conception and the person he aspires to be strongly shape his depiction of himself.

Artists, Titles, and Accession Numbers

Anonymous (after Carle van Loo), Self-Portrait with a Chalkholder, 2007.15.54 >

Claude Hoin, Portrait of a Man (recto); Sketch of a Lady (verso), 2007.15.4 >

Jean-Baptiste Isabey, Jeanne Justine Laurice de Salienne (The Artist's Wife), 2007.15.50 >

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Head of a Youth, 2006.11.61 >

Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar, Three Portrait Drawings, 2007.15.82 >

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