This fall, three temporary exhibitions at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum create conversations between media and across time, around the notion of recording people and places. Fashionable Portraits in Europe and Jess T. Dugan: Every breath we drew bring together painted portraits from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries from the museum's permanent collection with contemporary photographic portraits by the St. Louis-based artist, while Enduring Documents: Photographs from the Permanent Collection explores the museum's holdings of historical photography.
Drawn primarily from the collection of the Cornell, Fashionable Portraits in Europe brings together works spanning five centuries and investigates the historical tradition of portraiture in Europe, its function and formats, and the clothes worn by the sitters. The way in which identity was defined and dictated by social norms and expectations is another aspect of interest in this exhibition.
"Fashionable portraits of the past record and preserve not only their likenesses but also their most cherished attributes, be they fame, wealth, status, family, talent, or faith. They are objects with enormous rhetorical power that helped the sitters fashion themselves. Self-fashioning through portraiture is subject to the sociocultural, religious, and political circumstances of the time, as well as to the individuals' personal backgrounds," states Rangsook Yoon, Dale Montgomery Fellow at the Cornell and curator of the exhibition.
A Portrait of Charles IX of France after Francois Clouet (ca. 1561), The Countess of Beaufort by Louis Michel van Loo (ca. 1760), and the Portrait of Harriet Gordon attributed to Thomas Lawrence (ca. 1820) are some of the works on display. Loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston; and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven augment the exhibition. Jess T. Dugan's photographic portraits provide a contemporary contrast to these historical works. Dugan's oeuvre explores issues of gender, sexuality, and identity from a highly individual and humanistic point of view. She photographs people in their homes, often in their bedrooms, to create a deep, sustained engagement, and a very private perspective.
"Jess T. Dugan's works, recently featured in The New York Times, among other media outlets, simultaneously possess the universal and the personal. They are at once about the issue of human dignity and also the intimate relationship between artist and subject. While Dugan's works belong to a history of portraiture in their composition and construction, they are distinctive and profound on their own," notes Curator Amy Galpin.
Dugan utilizes the traditional formats of the genre, but in every other respect her portraits are entirely different. Where the painted portraits were official, idealized, and status-conscious, Dugan's are intimate, individualized, and very personal. They search for, and attain, an intimate connection absent in Fashionable Portraits. If Fashionable Portraits offers historical precedents to portraiture as a genre, Enduring Documents: Photographs from the Permanent Collection contextualizes Dugan's art within the history of photography. Trailblazing artists such as Matthew Brady, Gertrude Käsebier, and F. Holland Day, some of the earliest American photographers, are represented in this e xhibition presenting recent acquisitions for the Cornell. The photographs included present images of the American landscape - from the mountains of Colorado to the encroaching industrialization of telephone wires in a deceptively mundane environment - as well as portraits of important figures such as President Abraham Lincoln and artists Henri Matisse and Clarence White.
Together, this presentation of photographs demonstrates the ability of the medium to exist as both a complex art form and as a documentary tool that reveals political, social, and cultural histories. The fall exhibitions at the Cornell invite our visitors on a voyage of discovery that details and provides counterpoints to the thematic Conversations in the permanent collection galleries. Old favorites like the Madonna Enthroned Nursing the Christ Child (ca. 1470) by Cosimo Rosselli, one of the painters of the Sistine Chapel, and Thomas Moran's beautiful Moonlight Seascape from 1892 are joined by Jay Heikes' 2013 Philosopher's Stone, part of the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, and our newest acquisition, Francesco Solimena's Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing the Indians (ca. 1680-85).
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Source: Cornell Fine Arts Museum