Friday, October 22, 2010

Object of the Day: English Portrait of a Gentleman, 1880

My love of portraiture always draws me to paintings like this. Portraits capture the personalities of people in ways that photography can’t. Artistic representations sum up the overall spirit of an individual while a photograph scientifically steals a moment in time.

This portrait of an unknown sitter is unsigned. It is painted on a wooden board. Its origins become clearer when we study the reverse of the painting. Though ripped and largely missing, the back of the piece has been lined with newspaper. The paper reads, “The Strand” and is dated to 1880. That places this painting around that time period. However, it could have been painted earlier. The gentleman’s attire suggests that this was painted in the mid to late 1870’s.

He’s one of many rather grim gentlemen who line the walls of my home. He’s more benign looking than some of his painted brothers. With his slight smile, ruddy cheeks and crinkled eyes, there’s a slightly mischievous look to him. I find it interesting that the painting has been framed in a wooden, inset oval when there’s nothing particularly oval about the portrait. I’ve often wondered if there’s a signature somewhere beneath that oval, but I’ve not removed it from the frame because I am loathe to destroy the bits of 1880-era newspaper which remain. And, so, he will forever be a bit of a mystery. Still, regardless of who painted him, he’s a pleasant companion to the other two-dimensional people who gaze out from their gilt cages.

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