de Saisset Museum

South Bay's free museum of art and history

What Makes a Picture a Portrait?

April 10 - June 4, 2010


We are all familiar with portraits. We are seemingly surrounded by them. They are hanging in our homes, buried in the recesses of our wallets, and plastered on our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. But, what really makes a picture a portrait? How do we determine where a figure study ends and representation begins? Can we assign identity to an image of a hand, a foot, or an unnamed sitter?

Composed of more than 50 works drawn from the de Saisset Museum's permanent collection, What Makes a Picture a Portrait? considers the variety of ways in which portraits are presented. Through the juxtaposition of traditional painted images and compelling, sometimes quirky, works on paper, portraiture becomes a dynamic, ever-changing art form in which conventional practices are called into question. Ultimately, this exhibition suggests that there is more to portraiture than meets the eye.

Artists featured in this show include Robert Arneson, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Arnold Mountfort, Barbara Morgan, and Andy Warhol, among others.


Images, left to right: Arnold G. Mountfort, Unfinished Symphony, 1934, oil on canvas, 56.5 x 31.75 in., Bequest of Patricia O'Neill Mountfort, 1.408. Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham-American Document, 1938, printed 1984, gelatin silver print, 18.5 x 15.75 in., Focus Gallery Collection, Helen Johnston Bequest, 6.46.1989 © Barbara Morgan, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery, NY.
Permanent Collection 

Learn more about the objects in our collection.