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Article Archive >> Summer Tourism

Face-to-Face: Portraits from the Permanent Collection

Face-to-Face: Portraits from the Permanent Collection

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has recently placed on view an exhibition that highlights the excellent American portraits in the Museum's permanent collection. The portraits displayed in the Museum's Smith Gallery range in date from the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, and include oil paintings, miniatures, and bronzes.
Portraiture - the depiction of particular people - was the most popular kind of art in the United States during the nation's early history. Some of the most important American portrait painters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were members of the Peale family of painters, established in Maryland and Pennsylvania by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). This exhibition includes Peale's 1771 oil painting of the Revolutionary War officer Colonel Nathaniel Ramsay (1741-1817). Charles Willson Peale's niece
Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885), one of the first successful professional women artists in America, is represented by her beautifully detailed portrait of Anna Cormick Farmer Bower.
In the days before the introduction of photography in 1839, people who wanted more intimate representations of loved ones commissioned miniature portraits painted in watercolor on ivory, such as the exquisite portrait of Anthony Slater by Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825). Silhouettes cut in paper offered an affordable kind of portraiture; an example made by Charles Willson Peale's Museum in Philadelphia is in the exhibition.
Distinguished Americans whose portraits are displayed include Samuel Sprigg, a nineteenth-century Governor of Maryland portrayed by Raphaelle Peale and President Andrew Jackson as painted by Ralph Earl (1788-1837).
There are also wonderful portraits of people whose identities are not even known, as in an 1851 portrait study of an unknown lady by the great portraitist Thomas Sully (1783-1872I). About a hundred years later Eugene Speicher (1883-1962) painted a stylish but unidentified lady in a work titled The White Blouse.
Since the nineteenth century, bronze sculpture has been an important medium for American portraiture. This exhibition features Paul Wayland Bartlett's (1865-1925) equestrian sculpture of the Marquise de Lafayette, the French General who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War. The Museum's cast is a smaller version of the 1907 colossal bronze given by the United States to the French in thanks for the Statue of Liberty. The great modernist author and art patron Gertrude Stein appears in a 1906 bronze bust by Italian-born sculptor Lamberto Goria.
Thanks to the generosity of William and Anna Singer, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts opened on September 16, 1931 as the focal point of Hagerstown's beautiful City Park. The Museum specializes in 19th and 20th century American art and holds over 6,000 pieces in its permanent collection. This "crown jewel of Washington County" has been recognized as one of the finest small museums in the United States. This year the Museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary of offering complimentary studio art courses, lectures, films, chamber music concerts, and exhibitions from its permanent collection and traveling shows to the people of Washington County and visitors to the quad-state (MD, PA, VA, WV) region.
For more information on the Museum or its anniversary, please phone 301-739-5727 or visit www.wcmfa.org. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday from 9am to 4pm and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.

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