So much can be determined from a portrait, and in this exhibition there is the opportunity to see how both artist and sitter, from Ancient Egypt to Persia, to the German Expressionists and Balthus, responded to the very personal experience of depicting one’s visage. This exhibition celebrates the intimacy of portraiture in painting, sculpture, and on paper, with fine examples from a private collection.
From the collector
It was a photo portrait that drew me into a Madison Avenue art gallery for the first time in my life. Since that introduction, my wife and I have been drawn to art in many mediums, but whether in stone, bronze, pencil, paint, or chemicals, the human face and form has held an abiding attraction as the basis for our collecting.
Many of the portraits in this exhibition have been in our collection for over twenty years. Knowing the subjects’ identities and histories creates a bond. And as further research uncovers new details, our relationship to these works of art deepens, surpassing simple stewardship. Our fascination with a particular artist generally coincides with a remarkable self-portrait. I wonder how often the image of a face, or the impulse to reproduce one’s own image, has influenced an artist to discover their calling.
Research has found that viewing a human face sets off a unique reaction in the human brain. This chemical reaction, not unlike addiction, occurs when we see a face or expression that pleases us, giving us a feeling of well-being. From infancy through old age, we are responsive to human features, sometimes with ambivalence, but always with meaning.
I knew nothing of these things when I first stepped into that gallery to inquire about the photo and was embarrassed to be told, “Don’t you see the red dot? That’s not for sale. . . .” Years later, my wife and I looked at the art we had amassed, in an effort to find a connection among the various works. We realized that we have been portrait collectors, from ancient to modern, almost unconscious of our predilection.
From the bronze imperial head of Ptolemy of Mauretania, which dates to the early first century AD, to the oil portrait of Rosabianca Skira by Balthus completed in 1949, the content of this show spans almost two thousand years. Some of the pieces have sad or fascinating stories—and, at times, coincidence interlocks their history and provenance. It all speaks to our shared humanity. And every piece makes my heart beat a bit faster, although some might say that’s all in my head. . . .