Portraits and Identity @ Victoria Art Gallery

Mrs Siddons in the Character of Zara, engraver John R Smith Artist Thomas Lawrence, mezzotint
Mrs Siddons in the Character of Zara, engraver John R Smith Artist Thomas Lawrence, mezzotint. Click on images to enlarge.

A free exhibition featuring portrait prints by artists as diverse as Hogarth, Dürer and Grayson Perry opens at the Bath & North East Somerset Council-run Victoria Art Gallery on August 20 and runs through to October 4th..

A highlight of the exhibition, entitled ‘Portraits and Identity’, will be Perry’s ‘Map of Days’, which was purchased by the Gallery in 2014, using grant-aid from outside bodies.

This unusual self-portrait takes the form of a map showing the inner workings of the artist’s mind. The river of imagination flows past a walled city made up of streets with names such as ‘Intuition’, ‘Revenge’ and ‘Churning Insecurity’.

Henry Bunbury Esqr Thomas Lawrence 1789
Henry Bunbury Esqr byThomas Lawrence 1789

Councillor Patrick Anketell-Jones (Conservative, Lansdown), the Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “Bath residents and visitors will have an opportunity to see this wonderful array of portraits for free. This exhibition gives a fascinating insight into portrait artists and their sitters.”

The prints on display will show how artists put clues into a portrait to tell us about the sitter’s life. For example, an intellectual might be pictured with books, while a doctor is shown with body organs and an artist holds the tools of his trade.

Clockmaker, Thomas Tompion - unknown artist.
Clockmaker, Thomas Tompion – unknown artist.

Often, portraits are commissioned by the sitters, so the artist has to create a flattering image. Alexander Pope, for example, was a difficult man with health problems that left him short and deformed, but there is no hint of that in the flattering depiction of him as a gentleman poet.

Caricatures, on the other hand, can be much more cutting. Gillray transforms naturalist Joseph Banks into a showy butterfly after receiving the Order of the Bath, while William Hibbard shows the Bath Corporation with symbols of their businesses for heads.

Portraits and Identity will run alongside the ‘Jane Austen’s Bath’ exhibition, which features many of Austen’s astute character analyses.

More information via www.victoriagal.org.uk