Art Critique of "Contemplating Character" Exhibition and “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife" - Lhermitte

The exhibit “Contemplating Character” shown at the Dixon Gallery was an exhibition of portraits divided into seven categories, self-portraits, portraits of artists, family, portraits of unknown sitters, fame, drama and imagination, and repose and endings. The exhibit displayed works of a large range of mediums, from pencil sketches to oil paintings, and the subject of the portraits varied, for example, while there were many paintings and drawings of people’s faces simply sitting, there were also a few pieces where the portrait was drawn in the reflection of a miscellaneous object such as a lightbulb or a coffee urn, or there were a few drawings of hands as a self- portrait because the artist did not have a mirror to draw himself from. The broad spectrum of this exhibit offered many different viewpoints and techniques that were very interesting to observe.

The piece, “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Heloise Goudard” by French artist Leon Augustin Lhermitte is the focus of this Critique. This piece is pastel on ivory laid paper and its focus is a dark-haired woman in a blue dress holding a branch of leaves and yellow flower. This portrait is said to be “exceptionally honest” because of Lhermitte’s depiction of his wife’s broken nose. There are no particularly sharp lines, and the whole painting seems to have a haze over it, but it is clear enough that one can tell what every part of the painting represents.

I think that Lhermitte was simply trying to depict his wife in a simple yet beautiful light, choosing to include even her flaws, such as her crooked nose, and I think that he accomplished this quite well. The main strength of this piece is that he used shading and highlighting very strategically to show off the silver buttons and brooch on her dress and to make them catch the viewer’s eye and to highlight the texture in her face such as her wrinkles and broken nose. One could say that a weakness of this portrait is the haziness of it all and the muted and somewhat dull colors used; however, I think that it only adds to what I think Lhermitte was trying to accomplish which was a rural simplicity, and it brings the viewer’s attention to the face of the subject rather than putting the focus on the flowers or her hands. I find it interesting that Lhermitte only chose to highlight specific pieces in a line down the middle of the painting, for example, the subject’s forehead, nose, brooch, and silver buttons were the only pieces heavily highlighted. I find this technique interesting because it attracts the viewer’s eyes to this central part of the painting. I think that this piece is beautiful, and it showed me that a portrait does not have to be hyper-realistic and flashy to stand out; simple highlighting to the right spots can make a painting stand out just as much and make it just as beautiful.


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