The exhibition, Face to Facebook, explores portraits and how Philadelphians have pictured themselves from the 17th through the 21st centuries. Twenty-five portraits by artists such as Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Sully, Gilbert Stuart, and Benjamin West are on view in the Philadelphia History Museum’s newly renovated galleries, along with daguerreotypes, vintage photographs, and early camera equipment.
Drawing on the Museum’s vast collection of more than 100,000 objects and artifacts, Face to Facebook looks at portraiture, past and present, and its impact on how we construct our identity and present ourselves to others.
The exhibition provides insight into the ways Philadelphians have saved their likenesses over time: From formal portraiture of the 17th and 18th centuries replete with symbolic props and postures; to early 19th -century photographs that mimic formal portraiture; to the rise of affordable photography that made likenesses accessible to almost anyone; to the development of the portable camera that increasingly took portraiture out of the studio; to today’s digital photography.
Highlights of the exhibition include a portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart, ca 1798, and a portrait of Charles Willson Peale painted by his son Rembrandt Peale (1812). Also on view is a portrait of Harriet Lee Smith (c.1841), an African American abolitionist. Visitors can explore a collection of over 70 photographic portraits including daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes from the 1800s. Informal photographs of everyday Philadelphians, taken by students from University of the Arts, rounds out the exhibition to illustrate the informal nature of today’s portraits.
As part of the exhibition, visitors are invited to join the portrait gallery by taking their own digital photograph behind an elaborate frame and emailing it to be included in the exhibition and on the Philadelphia History Museum’s website. View your photo here!