(Portrait Sketch of an Actor)

  • Unidentified, (Portrait Sketch of an Actor), ca. 1830, oil on wood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1977.132

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.”

(Portrait Sketch of an Actor)
ca. 1830
On View
20 x 15 7/8 in. (50.9 x 40.4 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Museum purchase

Mediums Description
oil on wood
  • Portrait male – unidentified
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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