National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Modern Portraits in Photography

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image of The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts
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Like other traditional artistic genres, portraiture was radically transformed with the advent of modern art. Before the 1800s, portraits typically depicted a sitter's external likeness; they also indicated his or her standing in society through clothing, setting, or the choice of surrounding objects. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, however, many artists rejected surface impressions. They argued that to reveal a person's character, one needed to show normally invisible elements such as mood or state of mind. Furthermore, artists wanted to address the unnatural space of art—flat canvases, self-contained chunks of wood or stone—as much as the natural space of the sitter. From the 1890s onward unnatural colors, distorted physical features, and abstract or nonrealistic settings became hallmarks of portraiture in advanced painting and sculpture. (continue)


1Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe--Hands, 1919
2Paul Strand, Rebecca, 1922
3Aleksandr Mikhailovich Rodchenko, Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1924
4Imogen Cunningham, Gertrude Gerrish, late 1920s
5August Sander, Recipient of Welfare Assistance, 1930
6Kata Kálmán, Ernő Weisz, 23-Year-Old Factory Worker, Budapest, 1932
7Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, 1932
8André Kertész, Elizabeth and I, 1933
9Walker Evans, Subway Portrait, 1938
10Lisette Model, Bud Powell, 1956-1958
11Harry Callahan, Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, 1953
12Lee Friedlander, Self-Portrait, 1964-1969
13Nicholas Nixon, The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts, 1984