Face to Face: Looking at Portraits from the Westport Public Art Collections

Looking at portraits is a way to explore different kinds of artwork and examine the transiency and relevancy of human existence.

What do artists' portraits make you think about?

How would you describe the sitters? What are they doing? What do you think they are feeling or thinking?

Ralph Boyer, Self-Portrait (1920s), graphite; (right) Howard Munce, Coach and Kids (c. 2002), acrylic
Tracy Sugarman, What I Think (1950s), watercolor, pen and ink

When looking at a portrait of someone or group of people, what connections do you make with your own personal experiences and memories?

Ann Chernow, The Sound of Round (1982), oil
Some artists also loved rendering portraits of their beloved pets! Richard Daly, Spot (n.d)watercolor

Cover page, detail, Steven Dohanos, Big Game of the Season (1946), oil

Have any of you ever had your portrait painted, drawn or taken with a camera? How did it feel?

What are some of the things you thought about beforehand? What clothes to wear? Where to sit? Should I smile, or not? How long do I need to sit or stand still?

Ann Chernow, Picture This! (2001), oil ; (left) detail, Ralph Boyer, Portrait of the artist's daughter, Rebecca A. Boyer, at age 8 (1929), oil
Interpretive photograph by Bedford Middle School Art Collective
Eugene Hannan, Bust of Edward T. Bedford (c.1936-37, Westport W.P.A.), plaster; and interpretive version by Bedford Middle School Art Collective students

What did the people really look like? What were their names? What was their personality like?

Samuel Brown, Portrait of Horace Staplesnamesake of Staples High School (c. 1938, WPA), oil

For centuries, artists have used portraits to capture the likeness and character of individuals, from historical & famous figures to family members to neighbors & those from everyday life.

Stevan Dohanos, Westport First Selectman W. Wilbur Crossman, (c. 1957). What clues do you see here?

Artists may create portraits from direct experience with the sitter. Often, they incorporate "clues" to the subject's identity, status, occupation and location.

Bernie Fuchs, President John F. Kennedy (c. 1962), pen and ink
Bernie Fuchs in the Oval Office taking photos of JFK as reference for a new portrait, 1962. (Courtesy, Fuchs family.)

Or, they may choose to capture distinctive facial expressions, gestures or setting as added personal references.

Tracy Sugarman, Portrait of a Boy in Philadelphia, (1943), oil. What is this boy doing? Where is he sitting?
Ralph Boyer, Portrait of the artist's daughter, Rebecca A. Boyer, at age 16 (1939), oil; (left) detail, Ralph Boyer, Portrait of the Westport W.P.A. Committee (1939), oil.

Artists—including photographers—can use light, vantage point, framing, composition and scale to help interpret the sitter's mood.

Russell Ohm Kuhner, James Earle Fraser in his Westport Studio (c.1950), gelatin silver print; (right) detail, Richard Frank, Muhammad Ali (1971) (detail), ©Richard Frank. "One night, while having a coffee at Jake’s Diner in Athens, Ohio, I experienced an electrifying moment when Muhammad Ali, along with an entourage of Ohio University students, entered the diner. Fortunately, I had my camera and a roll of film, and the champ agreed to have his picture taken."-Richard Frank
Victor Keppler, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in “Your Show of Shows” (c. 1950-54), gelatin silver print
Unknown photographer, Girl with a doll (c. late 1950s-early 1960s), gelatin silver print

Artists may also push the boundaries of traditional portraiture by challenging the notion that they must realistically depict the individual.

What do you see? How does the artist use line, color, and space in these portraits?

From upper left to lower right: Leonard Besser, Kindred Souls (1964), watercolor; Estelle Thompson Margolis, Mother and Child Reading (c. 2002), acrylic; Paul Camacho, Girl's Head (c. 1966), watercolor; Henri Matisse, Mariana Alcoforado, Lettres (1946), lithograph; Joe Lasker, Sacco and Vanzetti (c.1971), woodcut

By manipulating the subject’s appearance with the expressive use of COLOR, LINE, SCALE or non-traditional materials and techniques, the artist can convey an emotional or psychological state rather than just a physical reality.

Paul Rand, Igor Stravinsky (mid 1960s) ink on paper
Enrico Baj, Doily Girl (1969) lithograph on foil
Paul Cezanne, Tête de Jeune Fille (1873), etching and aquatint
Roe Halper, Boy's Head (1965), wood relief
Paul Camacho, Boy's Head (1964), oil; (left) detail, Paul Camacho, Large Female Head (1964), oil
Leonard Besser, Portrait of Man (nd), oil


A self-portrait is a likeness that an artist produces of themselves. Is it the same as a selfie?

Although we look very different from one another, the placement of our features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears and parts of the face) is similar.

Paul Camacho, Self Portrait (1966), watercolor; (right) Ralph Boyer, Self-Portrait (1942), casein

By knowing where these features are on your face, you can observe and draw a self-portrait too. GIVE IT A TRY!

Click here to to download "Create Your Own Self Portrait" step-by-step lesson guide

Take your time and look closely at your unique features (perhaps in a mirror), then try drawing what you see!

Experiment & be creative in expressing your individuality in the portrait of yourself!

Al Parker, Self-Portrait (nd), ink on Paper, Black & White Collection, The Westport Library
Paul Camacho, Girl's Head (1966), watercolor
Larry Rivers, Self-Portrait (1966), mixed media

Thank you for exploring with us!

To learn more about the Westport Public Art Collections (WestPAC) and to Search the collections visit westportarts.org

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Created By
Westport Public Art Collections


Courtesy, Westport Public Art Collections, Town of Westport, CT