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Collections & Exhibitions / American Art
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Educational Insights

Speaking of Pictures

Interior with Portraits by Thomas Le Clear

Thomas Le Clear, Interior with Portraits, about 1865, oil, 25 7/8 x 40 1/2 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the Pauline Edwards Bequest, 1993.6

To a trained eye, almost every artwork contains clues that reveal a story. These details might relate to the composition—that is, why the artist constructed the piece in a particular way. An artist can also convey subtle meaning through symbols. Roll over various parts of the featured artwork to reveal interesting facts and background information. There are five different rollovers in this image.


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From abandoned clothing and distracting clutter to ancient Greek statues and condescending portraits, this painting is packed with fun-filled details! Various items in the scene give us clues to a story about the battle between the artistic media—photography versus painting!

When Thomas Le Clear painted this work, the new art of photography and the established tradition of portraiture competed for superiority. Flip through the rollovers and tie the clues together. What is Le Clear's commentary? Does he have a preference? You can be the judge.

To learn more about Interior with Portraits, see our Director's Choice feature, where you can take a multimedia tour of this painting with museum director Elizabeth Broun. Explore the development of photography with Every Picture Has a Story, a lesson plan produced by the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, and visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum's online photography center Helios.

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