Therefore I Am: Portraits from the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center is on view in the Modlin Center for the Arts Atrium and Booker Hall at the University of Richmond, August 24, 2022 through July 7, 2023. The exhibition presents a selection of portraits spanning six centuries and examines the various roles that portraiture has played in portraying the identity of the sitter. Historically, portraiture has been utilized by society’s elite to communicate messages of power, prosperity, and beauty, and the works in this exhibition demonstrate the gradual shift from the traditional intentions of portraiture in the sixteenth century to an expressive use of the genre in the twenty-first century.
Therefore I Am: Portraits from the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center borrows its title from seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes’ famous statement, “I think, therefore I am,” which declares that we know we exist because we have knowledge.
With recent advances in technology such as digital cameras and smartphones, portraiture has become omnipresent in society today. The exhibition encourages the viewer to think about how we consume and interact with portraiture in our everyday lives, whether it be scrolling through group photos on social media or taking a selfie.
Highlighted artworks include Reigning Queens (Queen Beatrix) by Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), a portrait of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands that belongs to a screenprint series featuring four ruling queens of the 1980s. Reigning Queens, with its bold color blocks and larger than life composition, exemplifies the allure of the celebrity portrait in a style that is quintessentially Pop Art.
The print Self-Portrait of Jean-Antoine Watteau with His Friend Jean de Julienne Playing the Violoncello by Nicolas-Henri Tardieu (French, 1674-1749) after Jean Antoine-Watteau (French, 1684-1721), serves as an example of traditional eighteenth-century portraiture. The two featured men are posed beside each other amid a lush landscape, Julienne sitting with his bow on the base of a violoncello while Watteau stands beside him with paintbrushes and palette in hand. Based on a painting by Watteau, this engraving was commissioned by Julienne as a memorial to the two men’s friendship and appreciation for the arts, and it served as the frontispiece for the first volume of engravings after Watteau’s life’s work.
In Self Portrait by Barbara Swan (American, 1922-2003), the viewer may observe how an artist’s personal style can permeate into how they see and therefore depict themselves. Swan, who is best remembered for her still life paintings where patterns and objects are abstracted as they are viewed through water and glass, depicts herself holding a pencil as her own face is reflected in a vessel of water, drawing attention to her identity as an artist.
Therefore I Am: Portraits from the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center also features portraits by Fritz Eichenberg (German, 1901-1990), Howard Finster (American 1916-2001), Mauricio Lasansky (American, born in Argentina, 1914-2012), Tomás Lasansky (American, born 1957), Jan Sawka (American, born in Poland, 1946-2012), Johann Nepomuk De la Croce (Italian, 1736-1819), Agostino Carracci (Italian, 1557-1602), Nina Jordan (American, born 1964), and Richard Pitts (American, born 1940), and self-portraits by William Hogarth (British, 1697-1764), George Tooker (American, 1920-2011), Diego Lasansky (American, born 1994), Joni Pienkowski (American, born 1937), Ronnie Sampson (American, born 1959), and Jerzy Panek (Polish, 1918-2001).
The exhibition was organized by the University of Richmond Museums, curated by Sophie McClellan, ’23, art history and leadership studies major, and 2022 Harnett Summer Research Fellow, University Museums, with direction from Richard Waller, Executive Director, and N. Elizabeth Schlatter, Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions, University Museums.