Portraits, Past and Present

According to legendary art critic Robert Hughes, in past centuries, portraiture served as a “description of public roles, as well as a (necessarily [discrete]) essay on the private self.” Hughes asserted that for artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, “portraiture [was a] diplomatic agreement between truth and etiquette, between private opinion and public mask.” Eighteenth-century portraits were popular, not for what was presented but for what was concealed.

The same holds true for many contemporary portraits, to different and often more apparent ends. For example, artists including Nicola Samori or Robert Bauer create portraits toying with both the obscured and the revealed; some, like Gideon Rubin, go further, creating images in which the subjects have no facial features. Rubin explains of his own choice: “I’d like to think the figures in my paintings remind the viewer of certain people or evoke memories rather [than] portray specific identities.”

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