Painting: History in Portraits

Gilbert Stuart tartly maintained that "no one would paint history who could do a portrait," but as the chief depicter of George Washington, he showed that to paint portraits is often to paint great history. Over the centuries, on a less exalted plane, an amazing amount of homely personal history also stuck to the brushes of the portrait painters, but the daguerreotype and the photograph in the end reduced this broad popular stream of American art to a trickle. The rise and decline of portraiture is the most striking theme of a World's Fair exhibit called "Four Centuries of...

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