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(Portrait Sketch of an Actor)

ca. 1830 Unidentified oil on wood 20 x 15 7/8 in. (50.9 x 40.4 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1977.132 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 15B

Luce Center Label

This unfinished portrait captures the guile and wariness of an actor who very likely had to struggle for a living. America’s middle class in the nineteenth century regarded actors as little better than peddlers and cardsharps. Only a few, such as Edwin Booth and Fanny Kemble, managed to achieve a measure of respectability. The uncertain, appraising look in the man’s eyes undercuts the cocky assurance of his preposterous and tattered straw hat. In 1867 a critic for the Atlantic Monthly wrote: “It is an accepted dogma in dramatic art, that whatever is presented on the stage must necessarily be enlarged and exaggerated . . . [an actor] is apt to represent all shades and degrees of passion through . . . exaggerated tone, stride, and gesture.”


Performing arts - theater

Portrait male - unidentified


paint - oil