A NEW MYTHOLOGY AND THE PORTRAIT HISTORIÉ
As I continue to give definition to and refine my artistic focus – both visual and conceptual – I find that I’ve settled into a genre of painting that I hadn’t known to exist, or at least one that I didn’t know was distinct or that had an actual name. The portrait historié – literally a historicized portrait – is an artistic stylization in which a recognizable subject is depicted in historic or mythological guise. A French king impersonating a Roman general or, perhaps, Apollo; a famous actress posing tragically as the tragic Muse; a stout Dutch merchant and his vacant-eyed wife in a masquerade of Antony and Cleopatra; an English duchess brandishing an owl and portrayed as a terribly earnest Pallas Athena. Or, simply, any person having had a portrait made while got up in clothes of a period previous to their own. It was a favorite conceit of the Dutch masters and frequently employed by the European court painters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Rembrandt, Lely, Nattier, and Reynolds are among the best known artists who worked in a genre that was unable to survive the end of the nineteenth century; our “Modern Age” has had little appreciation for such absurd and blatant presumption. As far as I know, as yet there has only been a brief, timid re-emergence in the 1930’s, when it was often allied with Surrealism and a short-lived neoclassical revival.
Though it hasn’t been a conscious decision to take my work in this direction, it also hasn’t been any real departure from my earlier work. I’ve always been fascinated by history and period fashion, the trappings of mythology, and grand, overblown portraiture. And I’ve often slipped back and forth in time in my pictorial scenarios, in and out of genre. Neither should there be any surprise that I would most often bend the time-frame and particular genre to allow for my perverse sense of whimsy and well-known gender reversals. So here, in much of my recent work, one finds me transformed into – among other things – bored countesses or primping Gorgons, be-medalled soldiers or ravished goddesses, over-rouged princes or Hollywood glamour queens. The conversions are thorough though perhaps not entirely convincing.