Art: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Two eras—and two distinct views of social portraiture

The Edwardian era, which lasted from 1901 to 1914, was the last great age of the society portrait in Europe—"great" not in artistic merit but in the large expectations that people had of portraiture as a form. For us, that appeal has largely vanished: artists like Munch, Kirchner and Giacometti have taught us to expect anything but social ease and confident display from the human head. The social portrait seems exhausted now, a cultural irrelevance. This fall has brought two exhibitions by American artists that...

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