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April 18, 2003

Dewitt Wallace Museum Displays Works of 18th-Century Portraitist John Durand

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg has installed six portraits by 18th-century portraitist John Durand (active 1766-1782). Now part of the “Southern Faces” exhibition, these likenesses of southeast Virginia subjects reveal the artist’s talent for rendering simple, credible and forceful likenesses. “Southern Faces” and the Durand portraits will remain on display through Feb. 16, 2004.

“Durand’s understanding of anatomy enabled him to construct relatively convincing figures on canvas, although the subtleties of modeling and lighting eluded him,” said Barbara R. Luck, curator of the exhibition. “It is his decorative handling of line and unwavering sense of color that give his works their most powerful visual appeal." The displayed images show how Durand exploited these strengths by bringing subjects close to the fronts of picture planes and, especially in his later works, minimizing distracting background details.

Worth noting is the fact that Durand is one of the few 18th-century portraitists whose presence in Williamsburg, Va., has been documented. While portraits of area subjects suggest that he visited the town, proof that he lodged and sought business here lies in a 1770 advertisement in the local newspaper, the Virginia Gazette. A copy of the ad, offering his services as a portraitist, is on display in “Southern Faces.” Little else is known about Durand, though a trail of portrait clients maps his travels back and forth between Connecticut, New York and Virginia. As for details about his life, including his French ancestry, artistic training and even the time and place of his death, most remain speculative.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s award winning DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, supported by the DeWitt Wallace Fund for Colonial Williamsburg, displays the foundation's exceptional collection of English and American decorative arts. Entered through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773 on Francis Street near Merchants Square, the museum is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is included in any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or by separate one-day or annual museums ticket. For program information call (757) 220-7724.

Media Contact:
Sophie Hart
(757) 220-7272