NEW YORK, NY.- The first ever major UK exhibition to examine a fascinating but relatively unknown aspect of British portraiture will open at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this autumn. The Intimate Portrait will explore the period between the 1730s and the 1830s the heyday of British portraiture when some of the countrys greatest artists produced beautifully worked portraits in pencil, chalks, watercolours and pastels, as well as miniatures on ivory, that were often exhibited, sold and displayed as finished works of art. Jointly organised by the National Galleries of Scotland and the British Museum, this exhibition of nearly 200 works will draw upon the superb (and largely unexplored) holdings of intimate portrait drawings in the collections of both institutions, as well as upon important private collections that have been placed on long-term loan at the Portrait Gallery. Highlights will include masterpieces by Allan Ramsay, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence and David Wilkie.
While oil paintings and sculpture dominated the very public art of portraiture which flourished in Georgian and Regency Britain, many artists were simultaneously involved in creating more private portraits for domestic consumption and display. Portrait miniatures painted in watercolour on ivory were worn as jewellery or displayed as treasures in cabinets; pastels with their fragile but brilliant surfaces were protected under glass and hung within gilt frames; while drawings were either framed and hung in family groups or kept in albums or portfolios to be shown to friends and family.
Until now, there has never been a serious investigation of these captivating modes of portraiture, and it has largely been forgotten that these smaller, more intimate portraits were also enjoyed by a wider public, and were exhibited in their hundreds at the Royal Academy in London and other public exhibition spaces in Britain, such as the Associated Society of Artists in Edinburgh. Sir Thomas Lawrences magnificent portrait drawing of Mary Hamilton, which will feature in the exhibition, was one of thirteen works that he showed at the RA in 1789, most of them in pastels and chalk. A contemporary press report stated: The drawings in the Exhibition are this year and have been for several years past, superior in merit to the paintings.
The Intimate Portrait will bring together works by around fifty artists, including many of the leading figures of the period, such as Richard Cosway, John Brown, Archibald Skirving, Francis Cotes, George Dance, Henry Fuseli and John Downman. Of particular note will be two masterly self-portrait drawings by the young rivals Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. The majority of the beautiful portraits in the exhibition will be largely unknown to the public, as their sensitivity to light means they can only be shown infrequently.
The exhibition will include sections devoted to pastels, drawings and miniatures, and in addition, will examine the themes of self-portraiture, the depiction of artists families and friends, and the portrayal of the political, social, literary and theatrical celebrities of the day. Among the well-known sitters in the show will be Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Robert Burns, Lady Hamilton, the Duke of Wellington and the young Queen Victoria.
From the origins of polite society and the fashionable art world until the beginning of the Victorian era and the invention of photography the period covered by this exhibition portraits far exceeded in number any other genre exhibited and played a dominant role in visual culture and society. This exhibition will explore the significance of intimate portraits as indicators of contemporary taste, sentiment and social and material culture in this period, by examining how and why they were made, commissioned, and displayed. It will also examine these works crucial differences from oils, and above all, their qualities as portraits that are intimate in the multiple senses of the words.
Speaking of the exhibition, Nick Wells, Head of communications at Artemis Investment Management Ltd, said, As an Edinburgh-based company, Artemis is delighted to sponsor The Intimate Portrait at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The remarkable works on show will offer a fascinating insight into a type of portraiture that is hardly known and rarely seen today. It is truly rewarding to facilitate their display and help to bring them to a much wider audience.
Following its showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The Intimate Portrait will be displayed in the Prints & Drawings gallery (Room 90) at the British Museum from 5 March to 31 May 2009.