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Painting Identity


Twentieth-century portraits are part of a long tradition in which artists have conveyed moods, emotions, and personalities to preserve people in memory and history. After the popularization of photography, painting was no longer the primary means for recording physical appearances. Artists continued to explore and commemorate likeness but were free to use portraiture as a vehicle for their intent or style in a much more direct way.

This installation explores how fifteen American artists—including Barkley Hendricks, Edith Neff, and Jacob Lawrence—used portraiture to frame their perceptions of people, experiment with techniques, and reflect upon social issues.

Main Building

Free with museum admission

Pay What You Wish admission on 1st Sunday of the month & every Friday night

Image Gallery

Get a sneak peek at works in this installation.

Watch: Collection Highlight Miss T
Hear how Philly-born artist Barkley Hendricks transformed his girlfriend’s chic and commanding presence into a modern icon.


Jessica T. Smith, The Susan Gray Detweiler Curator of American Art, and Manager, Center for American Art
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Discover additional offerings.

Learn all about Beauford Delaney’s powerful portrait of icon James Baldwin.
Explore nearly 150 works created by American artists of African descent.
K–12 Resources
K–12 Resources
Browse themed resources for K–12 students and teachers.

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