Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Portrait: The Man Behind the Art

September 3, 2010 · No Comments

For the majority of human civilization history has been recorded by and about men. Today we learned that portraits are just another form of history telling. In the patriarchal society that has emerged in Europe in the past few centuries, powerful men have had their likenesses recorded by painters and photographers alike. The artists, who too were white men for the most part, helped to record a history in paintings that has sent the message that in any given era, white men were the only people worthy of remembrance.

Not all of these men illustrated however, were men that were famous or powerful. One portrait that drew my attention, John Ballantyne’s The Artist’s Studio depicts a man, small and off center, carving the lions that would one day sit in London’s Trafalgar Square. It took a little researching but I finally found the picture to be painted of Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, someone whose name I was not familiar with but whose work I had seen dozens of times either on television or on the street. Even in the photo, this man is in the shadow of these monstrous lions, symbols of the aristocracy. It was interesting to finally get another perspective on the monuments all over London. All of these monuments honor great men, but behind all of them were unknown artists commissioned to sculpt or paint for little or no recognition or acclaim.

(photo from http://www.nnf10.org.uk/programme/detail/The_Artists_Studio)

Although the gallery was filled mostly with white rich men, it was refreshing to see this one painting of an almost normal guy who, like everyone else, was a subject and servant to an immutable class system.

Categories: 2010 MatthewG · Museums

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