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Displaying items by tag: Small Portraits

Walk into almost any American antiques show and you will find for sale several examples of a unique portrait style produced in the northeastern United States from approximately 1820 to 1850. These portraits measure only about 3 by 2¾ to 5 by 4 inches, and present the sitter in a tightly cropped image on either a light white cardboard called Bristol board or on paper. In a direct pose, watercolor, ink, or pencil is used to depict the sitter in bold relief using an economy of line. Unwavering light is directed straight onto the sitter without shadow, so the figure appears to be almost self-illuminated. Facial features range from examples left roughly sketched to those minutely finished with delicate color. The sitters are solitary, with emotion and gesturing conspicuously eliminated and, usually, there is no attempt to use background detail to produce an atmospheric space. In a monumental stillness, the sitters seem to be fixed in time with the image so close to the picture plane that the person appears ready to step into the viewer’s world.

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