The Huntington, San Marino, California
This two-day international symposium has been inspired by the important collections of British portraits at the Huntington Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, and by an upsurge of scholarly interest in the interactive nature of portraiture—both in its intrinsic character and as a curatorial construct.
Portraiture implies an interaction between the sitter and the spectator. It often rehearses an interaction between two or more protagonists and regularly focuses on the interaction between the person(s) represented and his, her, or their surroundings. Portraits—of husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends, and colleagues—are often depicted by artists and arranged by curators so as to interact with each other in meaningful ways. As they are created, and once they are completed, portraits (and the figures they represent) interact with their settings: with the studio, the exhibition space, the domestic interior, the public building or square; and with the objects, people, and spaces found in those settings. The same portrait, or portraits of the same sitter, can also find themselves interacting with each other across different media—paint, print sculpture, and more.
Furthermore, curators are continually thinking about the ways in which the portraits they display—and the individuals these pictures portray—will relate with each other across and around a gallery. The Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington and the galleries at the Yale Center for British Art exemplify portraiture's continuing forms of interaction: implied and actual, pictorial and physical, and formal and figural.
This symposium, which is jointly organized by the Yale Center for British Art, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, will use the rich collections at the Center and the Huntington and the different concepts of interaction outlined above as points of departure and return, in order to open up new approaches to the history and workings of British portraiture up to the present.