Heads and Tales presents portraits of five people with compelling personal stories—a woman who inspired the English poet Alexander Pope; a royal governor who was murdered by a mob; a Federalist politician struggling against the tide in Jeffersonian Virginia; a patron of the arts who made his fortune as a robber baron in the Gilded Age; and a Virginia suffragette, freethinker, and political radical. Their tales are told by analysis of components of their pictorially complex portraits.
The Virginia Historical Society owns nearly 1,000 portraits. Some are exhibited in The Story of Virginia or in changing exhibition galleries, but others are rarely seen. This exhibition focuses on ten oil paintings—to be shown five at a time in 2008 and 2009. Each rotation includes paintings from the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s (none yet from the 2000s).
The paintings, of varying artistic quality, were chosen because each concerns an individual with a compelling personal story. The stories are told through analysis of the components of the composition.
This exhibition is as much about your reaction as about the tales we tell. How do you feel about these people—who do you like or dislike? What one word best sums up your reaction to each picture? What do you think of the changing fashions? If you had your portrait painted, what accessories would you include and what would they symbolize?
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