Los Angeles

“Portraits from the Museum of Modern Art”

Pomona and Scripps Colleges, Claremont

The collection is a varied group of portraits by moderns in all media, including photography. The works are not always of major stature but it is not the purpose of such a collection to present masterpieces. Taken as a whole they provide a fascinating parade of faces and viewpoints. The exhibition, displayed jointly in the galleries of these adjacent colleges, has a leisurely rambling quality that makes it ideal for study. The nature of portraiture makes it a strong suit for the German Expressionists and they dominate the show in size, numbers, and muscle. There are, for instance, six portraits of Max Beckmann, three self-portraits in print media, one in bronze, and one in oil, along with a woodcut portrait by George Barker. Beckmann’s rocklike head appears with the same forthright bitterness and changes little over a period of two decades. One of the major works in the show is certainly the Self-Portrait by Lovis Corinth. The figure, large to bursting the canvas, peers out, palette in hand, with a kind of hushed intensity that is reflected in the strangely gentle qualities that underlie the bravura paint. Kokoschka is present in a beautifully painted Self-Portrait (1913) and a color lithograph counterpart of ten years later that is much more simplified in form and less involved with the language of feelings. Next to these is a photograph of the young Kokoschka by Hugo Ehrforth of about the same vintage as the painting; its sensitivity validates the uncanny sense of “person” in the painting. Of the other styles there is a variety: Lucien Freud has a penetrating dissection of character in Portrait of a Woman, which is by turn ruthless and sympathetic in its exploration of anxiety; Modigliani is represented by a masterfully painted (in the Venetian manner) Anna Zborowskz in which the sitter’s character and the artist’s formal research meet on common ground; Balthus’ Joan Miro and his Daughter Dolores shows his bizarre clarity of perception with an affectionate rendering of the figures, drawn together in the center of the canvas in a way that gives an ominous quality to the scene. The selection is broad and includes Picasso, Rouault, Lautrec, Rivera, Chagall, Marini, Franklin Watkins, etc. Of the photographers, Cartier-Bresson, Stieglitz, and Steichen. It is an ample record of how people looked to themselves and others but most revealing is the composite sense of an era that emerges—of how man in the modern era looks at man. In these divergent visions can be seen the formation of the new sense of personal reality that, for better or worse, is dominant in the mid-twentieth century.

Doug McClellan