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Singular Figures: the development of an exhibition

Jacob van Campen’s pensive Old Woman with a Book (1625-1630)

On entering the Bader Gallery at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the first face one sees is that of René Descartes. The portrait of the philosopher who sought to pinpoint the nature of the self is a most fitting introduction to the exhibition.

Singular Figures: Portraits and Character Studies in Northern Baroque Painting illustrates the new emphasis, in the 16th and 17th centuries, on the individual, especially among artists in Holland and Flanders. Revealing a range of ages and emotions, these portraits seem to invite the viewers into the subjects’ lives, if only for a moment. Certainly, the fascination with the human face is not something new in today’s culture of instant photography and “selfies.” Portraiture reveals human nature and, ultimately, something about ourselves.

The exhibition was conceived by Stephanie Dickey, Professor and Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art and Undergraduate Chair (Art History and Art Conservation). When former Bader curator David de Witt left the Agnes to take a position at the Rembrandt House Museum, Jan Allen, Director of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, asked Dr. Dickey to develop an exhibition, drawing from the permanent collection, that could be in the gallery for a year or so, allowing the gallery time to fill the curator’s position.

Read the full story in the Queen’s Gazette.