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This installation of about twenty-five drawings from the Museum's permanent collection has been organized to coincide with Van Gogh: Face to Face (October 22, 2000–January 14, 2001). Dating from the late eighteenth century to about 1940, the portraits are by established masters such as Edgar Degas, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Sir Thomas Lawrence, as well as by less-known artists such as Caroline Durieux and Knud Merrild. Portrait Drawings on view present some of the most fascinating, stunning, disturbing, and beautiful portraits in the collection.
Among the recent acquisitions are a pair of lifesize portraits of a young brother and sister from Naples, drawn in 1913 and 1914 by the Italian sculptor Vincenzo Gemito—an artist known for his ability to seize upon revealing gestures and glances and to select the poignant details that are most telling about the sitter. The girl's shy, ingenuous gaze and childish stance create an unforgettable image of fleeting childhood beauty. By contrast, her brother, who wears a velvet suit and is armed with a rifle, appears somber, formal, and introspective.
A 1940 self portrait by John Woodrow Wilson, a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, reveals his remarkable ability to capture likenesses in conte crayon drawings, a talent that has distinguished his long career.
Charles Févriet de Saint Mémin created a stunning pair of portraits on brilliant pink-colored paper of John and Samuel Sitgreaves in 1798, using a device called a physiognotrace, which allowed him to make life-size outlines of the sitters' profiles which he then filled in with black and white chalk. Saint Mémin spent part of his life near Philadelphia where he recorded the likenesses of many notable Philadelphians, particularly government figures.
The installation also includes portraits by English Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Rossetti, Frederick Smallfield, and Ford Madox Brown, as well as strong likenesses by such twentieth-century American artists as Joseph Stella, Howard Cook, and Violet Oakley, and the Mexican artist Diego Rivera's monumental chalk portrait of the photographer Tina Modotti.