Art: Finding the Fine Things

The dean of U.S. portraitists is Boston's Charles Hopkinson. But for all his fame and his 79 years, Hopkinson has never painted a portrait that holds a mirror up to nature. Even if that were possible, he argues, it would not be enough—"a good portrait exists in a separate world, it is not a mirror, and the artist who paints merely to hit off a likeness or, what's worse to please his sitter, is lost."

Among the best of Hopkinson's portraits is that of Oliver Wendell Holmes (which succeeds in showing the living man as...

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