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Exhibition features portraits of famed authors

Friday, Jan. 22, through Monday, July 5, 2010 · Main gallery, Firestone Library

An exhibition opening Friday, Jan. 22, will fill Firestone Library's main gallery with 100 portraits of poets, novelists and essayists, pulled from the holdings of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Titled "The Author's Portrait: 'O, Could He But Have Drawne His Wit,'" the exhibition will feature paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, marble sculptures and plaster death masks dating from 1489 to 1989. Among the writers featured are William Shakespeare (about whom the quote in the exhibition's title was written by contemporary Ben Jonson), Virgil, Mark Twain, George Sand and Sojourner Truth. Artists whose work will be on view include William Blake, Constantin Brancusi, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Willem de Passe and Auguste Rodin.

Many of the portraits stem from friendships that were formed or flourished over long afternoons of conversation between artist and sitter, such as Édouard Manet and Charles Baudelaire, William Hogarth and Henry Fielding, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Martin Luther, and Ilia Efimovich Repin and Leo Tolstoy. Animosities also developed, such as that between the artist William Marshall and the poet John Milton, who famously told his readers (writing in Greek so the artist could not understand) to "laugh at the botching artist's mis-attempt." Charles Dickens had Daniel Maclise throw out all his early sketches and begin again from scratch. Goethe finally refused to pose ever again, complaining that artists had "tortured and plagued him" long enough.

Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, associate professor of American art and director of the Program in Visual Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, will deliver the opening lecture, "The Ideal Pencil: Poetry, Portraiture and Prejudice," at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, in 101 McCormick Hall. The talk will focus on African American writer Phillis Wheatley and portraits of African American women writers in the 19th century. It will be followed by a reception.

In addition, an annotated checklist of the exhibition, illustrated with 50 of the portraits, will be published with an introductory essay by Thomas Hare, Princeton's William Sauter LaPorte '28 Professor in Regional Studies and professor of comparative literature. The full-color publication will be available for sale in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The exhibition runs through July 5 and will be on view from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. weekends.

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