Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America

Exhibition Website

Oct 6 2016 - Feb 26 2017

American Folk Art Museum

New York City, NY

Securing the Shadow

is a contemplation of American self-taught portraiture through the lens of memory and loss. Humanity demands that no life should pass without some recognition, whether it is in the form of a marked grave, a portrait painted after death, or a postmortem photograph. Such tokens were once proof of life — one last opportunity to secure a shadow that would survive beyond the limit of individual memories.

American gravestones offer standing testimony to the changing social structure of dying from the colonial period through the nineteenth century as portraits of the deceased slowly replaced stark memento mori of winged death heads, hourglasses, and the like. In painted portraiture, the transition from frank mortuary depictions to living images coincided with a cultural shift as the individual came to be privileged over the community and a redemptive view of death replaced a more intractable belief in original sin. Posthumous portraits and the postmortem daguerreotypes that ultimately replaced them are memories fixed in colored pigments on canvas and vapors on silver. We cannot help but hear them whisper through the years, “remember me,” because, as photographer Mathew Brady warned in 1856, “you cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.

  • Painting
  • American
  • 18th Century
  • People/ Children
  • Various artists

Exhibition Venues & Dates