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'Contemplating Character' exhibition explores portraits

'Contemplating Character' exhibition explores portraits

The Pauly Friedman Art Gallery at Misericordia University will present "Contemplating Character: Portrait Drawings & Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud," an exhibition of more than 150 drawings and paintings that explore how appearance and personality combine to create a portrait. The exhibition begins Sept. 11 and runs through Dec. 2, with a free reception on Saturday, Sept. 22 from 4-6 p.m.

All of the portraits are from the personal collection of Robert Flynn Johnson, curator emeritus of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California. In his introduction to the show, Johnson describes a successful portrait as one that can "capture the soul beneath an individual's appearance." From this viewpoint, Johnson was able to build a collection of remarkable variety in technique and style.

"In our everyday life in 2018, we encounter portraits on coins and stamps and magazine covers. These are generally a photographically accurate likeness of a famous face," says Lalaine Little, director of the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery. "This show considers other art forms in which an artist uses something as simple as a swooping brushstroke to create posture or facial expression. These are some of the things we see as indicative of 'character.'"

The evolution of portraiture was driven by the invention of photography at the end of the 1830s. It freed creative artists from the necessity of providing mere likeness through their art, and allowed imagination to rule, according to French painter Paul Delaroche, known for pragmatic realism in his art. The "Contemplating Character" exhibit offers numerous examples of how portraiture styles changed over time.


The collection ranges from a late 18th century work by French Neoclassical artist Jacques Louis David to four works by 21st century British painter Lucian Freud, the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. It includes many notable works such as a French Revolution portrait of George Washington, measuring one half inch high; an unusual caricature of Charles Garnier, the famed architect of the Paris Opera, and an English portrait miniature circa 1810 depicting a single eye. In addition, there is a self-portrait reflected in a glass, part of a still life by French engraver Auguste-Hilaire Leveille, and a self-portrait by Louis-Joseph-Cesar Ducomet, a French artist born without arms who painted with his foot (1806-1856).

Lucian Freud's portrait of his mother.

In addition, the collection shows strength in self-portraits, irreverently including such works as Alfred Hitchcock's famous profile seen by millions at the introduction to the television series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (1955-1962) and Aubrey Beardsley's India ink portrait of Oscar Wilde. The exhibition was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, California, in association with Denenberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood, California.

The Pauly Friedman Art Gallery's fall hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. The gallery is closed Mondays and for all university holidays. For more information, please log on to or contact Lalaine Little, gallery director, at (570) 674-6250. For updates, follow the gallery on Facebook at @PaulyFriedmanArtGallery, and on Instagram at @MisericordiArt.