(Portrait Sketch of an Actor)

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
2015 78 in. (50.940.4 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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