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National Gallery Nights Prom

Self-Guided Tour

From poses of quiet dignity to views of over-the-top fashion, portraits can be resplendent works of art. Use this guide of the West Building to discover paintings of people fit for art museum royalty.

 

Gallery 52
The Marquesa de Pontejos

Married at the age of 24 to the Spanish ambassador to Portugal, the Marquesa de Pontejos was a patron of artist Francisco Goya, who painted her portrait around the time of her wedding. Her fabulous gray dress—a wonder of lace, ribbons, and petticoats—and straw hat atop an elaborate powdered hairstyle imitate fashions promoted by Queen Marie-Antoinette of France.

 

 

Gallery 54
Madame Bergeret

The fresh glow of Marguerite Bergeret’s complexion, the shimmery fabric of her gown, the profusion of roses, and even the rustic straw hat typify French aristocratic life in the 18th century. François Boucher captured the grace and glamour of a pampered way of life, where aristocrats seemingly had little more to do than seek pleasant pastimes.

 

 

Gallery 56
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries

Napoleon Bonaparte wears the evening uniform of the elite corps of the French army. His wrinkled stockings, disheveled hair, and the clock on the wall that reads 4:13 suggest he has been working all night. Painter Jacques-Louis David made the emperor appear taller by lowering the desk’s height and by drawing our eyes upward with vertical wall decorations.

 

 

Gallery 56
Madame Moitessier

The regal bearing of Ines Moitessier, the wife of a cigar importer, may have attracted the attention of French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Her splendid black velvet gown, with a black lace shawl wrapped around her waist, shows off her marvelous jewelry. The heavy bangles around her wrists, rings, and the long pearl necklace all signal her wealth.

 

 

Gallery 60B
Abigail Smith Babcock (Mrs. Adam Babcock)

Wearing pearls and a cape lined with ermine, Abigail Smith Babcock is the picture of wealth and success in colonial Boston. Sitters in several of John Singleton Copley’s other portraits wear similar garments. He was known to offer those who posed for him a choice of fancy dress, based on European fashions, to wear in their portraits.

 

 

Gallery 63
Portrait of a Ship's Steward

Although the artist and sitter are unknown, this rare early American portrait of a Black man offers a clue to his possible profession. Seen through the window is the New Philadelphia, one of the first commercial passenger boats to employ African Americans as stewards and waiters.

 

 

Gallery 71
Portrait of My Grandmother

Archibald John Motley Jr. created this portrait of his dignified 80-year-old grandmother, Emily Sims Motley, in 1922. The family matriarch wears a white apron over a simple blouse fastened with a heart-shaped brooch. Much of the composition is dominated by varying shades of a single color, white.

 

 

Gallery 3
Madonna and Child Enthroned

Working in 15th-century Italy, Gentile da Fabriano combined brilliant color, rich texture, and ornamental pattern in his art. Here, Mary, the mother of Christ, sits on a bench covered by floral material. Look closely to see the four angels that are incised into the gold-leaf background. 

 

 

Gallery 6
Ginevra de' Benci

This painting of Ginevra de’ Benci, the daughter of a wealthy banker in Florence, Italy, was probably commissioned about the time of her marriage at age 16. Her brown dress is enlivened with blue ribbon lacing, gold edges, and a sheer white blouse fastened with a gold pin. Ginevra’s portrait reigns as the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas.

 

 

Gallery 50
Girl with the Red Hat

Artists occasionally dress models in unusual costumes, such as this flamboyant feather hat and sumptuous blue wrap, to show off their technical skill in reproducing textures and effects of light. Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painted this vivid figure on a wood panel instead of his customary canvas.

 

 

Gallery 48
A Polish Nobleman

The beaver hat, dark fur cloak, and massive gold chain and medallion suggest this sitter was Slavic—or was he? Through dramatic accents of light and dark on the man’s face, bold brushwork, and dense application of paint, Rembrandt van Rijn created a powerful presence rather than a portrait of a specific person.

 

 

Gallery 46
Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer

Standing in front of militias and holding a flag, standard bearers wore bright, bold colors to draw the enemy’s fire. Traditionally they were unmarried, so they would not leave behind a family if they were killed. Here, Adries Stilte’s blue standard and sash identify his company and rank, while his shimmering satin costume and plumed hat display his personal taste, wealth, and bachelor status.

 

 

Gallery 46
Self-Portrait

Confident in her abilities as a painter, Judith Leyster holds the tools of her trade: a palette, cloth, and no fewer than 18 brushes. While she would not have dressed this way while at work in her studio, Leyster chose to present herself as an artist worthy of her profession and place in society.