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Portrait Exhibition Showcases Breadth of Getty Museum's Drawing Collection and Highlights New Acquisitions

Posing for Posterity: Portrait Drawings from the Collection
October 30, 2001-January 20, 2002

October 25, 2001

Los Angeles--Posing for Posterity: Portrait Drawings from the Collection, an exhibition that showcases portraiture throughout Western Europe from the Renaissance through the 19th century, will be on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from October 30, 2001 through January 20, 2002. The exhibition focuses on portrait drawings to examine the enduring challenge of and fascination with the depiction of the self, from the perspective of both artist and subject. It features new acquisitions that include the first work by Paul Gauguin in the Museum's collection, Head of a Tahitian Woman (about 1892), and two portraits by Charles-Nicolas Cochin, as well as a celebrated portrait drawing of Joseph Roulin by Vincent van Gogh.

For thousands of years, portraitists have served the steady demand of men and women who desired to have their likenesses preserved on canvas, on paper, or in marble. "While there have been a number of exhibitions focusing on portraits by one artist--Ingres and Van Dyck for example--only rarely do exhibitions examine portraiture as a category of art," says Lee Hendrix, curator in the department of drawings, J. Paul Getty Museum. "This exhibition surveys the Museum's collection of portrait drawings and presents them chronologically, exploring the finished portrait drawing and its long tradition as a category of art production."

Throughout history, the face has been an enduring, ambivalent subject manipulated by artists to explore a range of human emotion. As early as the 15th century, portrait drawings were commissioned in their own right. Unlike a formal, painted portrait, drawings were easily portable and especially favored by European courts traveling between royal residences. Posing for Posterity features 30 portraits from the Museum's collection, ranging from preparatory drawings for large-scale portraits to finished portrait drawings intended as distinct works of art.

"Especially before 1900, portraits by definition had to deliver recognizable likenesses of their sitters," comments Christine Giviskos, exhibition curator and assistant curator in the Museum's department of drawings. "On a small and often delicate scale, portrait drawings demonstrate the conventions within which artists had to work, and the solutions they devised for creating successful works of art within those conventions. Portraitists had to consider pose, format, and costume when planning their compositions, and also had to respond to the wishes of their sitters, who often had specific demands about how their portraits should look."

Portrait drawings in the Museum's permanent collection have not been exhibited as a group since 1996. Posing for Posterity features a majority of works acquired within the past five years and explores such issues as artistic style, characterization of sitters, and conventions of pose and costume.

Exhibition Highlights

Since the 16th century, portraits have been valued for their intimacy and portability. Posing for Posterity presents a range of works in this genre from a span of three centuries and offers a renewed focus on a category of art production with a long and continuing tradition. The exhibition is complemented by an installation of portraits in the Museum's pastel gallery.

The exhibition presents the newly acquired Head of a Tahitian Woman by Paul Gauguin, which is notably the first work in the collection by the artist. In this beautiful, life-size drawing of a teenage girl made during the artist's first trip to Tahiti, Gauguin uses the charcoal medium to great effect by laying it down heavily to describe her hair, using strong, short lines to articulate her facial features, and lightly smudging it on her face and neck. The girl's Western-style dress calls attention to the effects of European colonization on the native population of the island, which was of great concern to Gauguin during his time in Tahiti.

Also included are the Getty's newly acquired Portrait of a Young Woman and Portrait of Nicolas Michel Cury by Charles-Nicolas Cochin, which demonstrate the mastery of the medium of black chalk by this prolific portraitist. Considered the leading French draftsman of his day, Cochin's surviving drawings provide a collective image of the fashions, manners, and personalities of the upper classes in pre-revolutionary Paris.

The exhibition features Hans Baldung Grien's Studies of Heads, in which the artist includes a self-portrait among a lively sketch of head studies--a common technique for artists to practice rendering facial features and expression; and the Museum's Portrait of a Man by Hendrick Goltzius that will be shown with the woodcut print by Christoffel van Sichem that is based on the drawing. The woodcut is a recent acquisition of the Department of Special Collections at the Getty Research Institute.

The exhibition highlights Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Joseph Roulin, one of three drawings and five paintings the artist made of his friend and neighbor. Using patterns of thick and thin lines to create a remarkable surface energy, van Gogh presents Roulin with a monumentality and presence that seems barely contained by the margins of the paper.

Related Programs

Point-of-View Talk - Aaron Smith, a figure painter whose work is strongly influenced by Italian Baroque paintings, discusses the exhibition on Friday, November 9 at 6 and 7:30 p.m. Sign up at the Information Desk in the Museum Entrance Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Artist-at-Work Demonstration - Aaron Smith demonstrates the art of portraiture in the East Pavilion Art Information Room. Drop-in visitors are welcome anytime between 1 and 3 p.m. Thursdays, November 1, 8, and 15, and Sundays, November 4, 11, 18, and 25

Artist Series: FACING REALITY: The Art of Portraiture - Contemporary artists and critics examine the art and practice of creating and defining portraiture in a panel discussion on Sunday, December 2 at 4 p.m. in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium. Free admission. Advance seating reservations are required (parking is $5); call 310-440-7300 or visit (notice of cancellation is appreciated).

Note to Editors: October is National Arts and Humanities Month.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.