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The Mistress and the Muse: Selections from the Isabelle and Scott Black Collection features paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the esteemed Isabelle and Scott Black Collection. The exhibition explores the social and aesthetic dynamics that distinguish portraiture—a genre of art in which an individual’s specific characteristics are paramount—from figure studies, where the identity and personality of the model is secondary to the artwork’s narrative. The relationship between these two artistic modes was made increasingly complex in the modern period, when artists’ efforts to depict men and women were marked by fragmentation, pictorial distortion, and abstraction.
From the last quarter of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, many European artists began to reconceptualize the appropriate method for representing men and women. These efforts intertwined with changing notions of science and shifts in philosophy that led many to reconsider critical understandings of perception, memory, and human’s relationship to society. Artists were intimately involved in these cultural conversations, shaping and reflecting social norms through their art.
The Mistress and the Muse offers a critical survey of figurative art in this period, with a special focus on the tension between artistic depictions of a specific individual and the portrayal of a figure in a genre or allegorical scene. The exhibition demonstrates the important distinctions between these artistic approaches, and highlights moments when artists intentionally muddled the differences to provocative ends. Moreover, the show investigates how painters and sculptors tailored styles such as Impressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism for new forms of figurative art. All of these modern artistic innovations served as pathways for artists to challenge the traditions of verisimilitude and the realistic representation of humans and their settings, proving central to the development of modernism.
Generously supported by William Davisson and Katell Wildenberg.
Image: Paul Delvaux (Belgium, 1897 - 1994), Le Salut (La Rencontre) (detail), 1938, Oil on canvas, 35 x 47 1/2 inches, Isabelle and Scott Black Collection, 15.1996.3.