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Portrait Mystery Inspires Museum of Art Exhibition

After decades of mystery -- and at least two mistakes -- surrounding the identity of the painter of Smith's unsigned painting Portrait of a Youth, the artist was recently named.

An exhibition in the Smith College Museum of Art, "The French Portrait: Revolution to Restoration," is the result.

Several years ago, New York City art expert Margaret Oppenheimer spotted the unidentified work in a Smith College Museum of Art catalog. The painting had been acquired more than 75 years earlier as a work by Theodore Gericault. It had also at one time been thought to have been created by artist Diego de Velazquez.

Her glimpse of the portrait led Oppenheimer to embark on a research task that included a trip to Paris in search of clues. Ultimately, Oppenheimer identified the portrait as the work of French artist Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, who painted during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

When Oppenheimer was certain of her hunch, she contacted the Museum of Art here and published her findings in the journal Gazette des Beaux-Arts. She compared the Museum of Art's painting to a later portrait by Girodet, whose features closely resemble those in Portrait of a Youth.

With the excitement of the discovery, the Museum of Art mounted an exhibit of French portraiture from that era, and named Oppenheimer, who does not otherwise have a connection to the college, as guest curator.

“The French Portrait: Revolution to Restoration” is the first major exhibition in the country to examine the broad scope of French Neoclassical portraiture. Its 52 paintings, drawings and sculptures were created between 1784 and 1826.

"The French Portrait" will be on display through December 11.

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