Artists have been doing self-portraits for centuries, looking deeply, carefully depicting and declaring how they wanted to be seen in public.
So when it came time for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to assemble its final exhibition of its 50th anniversary year, it was time for a similar institutional self-reflection.
With more than 650 self-portraits in its collection to choose from, its new “Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today” reflects a wider, more diverse and inclusionary America than before.
There is the expected array of well-known male artists, from a silvered Andy Warhol, to a 21-year-old Edward Hopper in charcoal, a bemused Diego Rivera in a 1930 lithograph and a wall-sized 16-part Chuck Close in large format photographs from 1989. But roughly a third of the works are by women, from early photojournalist Jessie Tarbox Beals, from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where she was the only woman to receive photo credentials, to portraitist Alice Neel, presented in a surprising nude as an 80-year-old.
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