George Biddle, Evocation of the Past

Date
1966
Medium
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of the Michael Biddle Family, 2023
Dimensions
72 x 80 in.

This twelve-figure group portrait depicts the pantheon of American artists with whom Biddle, looking back at age eighty-one, felt kinship, and whose portraits he had made from life in earlier decades. From left to right in the top row appear Biddle himself, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Vincent Canadé, Henry Varnum Poor, William Zorach, and David Burliuk. In the bottom row are Abraham Walkowitz, Hélène Sardeau, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Man Ray, and Marguerite Zorach. Each likeness is posed according to the pose of a previous portrait completed by Biddle.

Most of the figures are noticeably older than they were in the previous depictions, some had died, and Sardeau, Biddle’s wife, was suffering with a terminal illness. Because Evocation of the Past is a reassemblage of images, the figures don’t interact with each other, but instead seem like isolated characters in the same puzzle. Adding to the enigma are depictions of three additional works of art: the sculpture Temehau e Teai (1921), the face of a Tahitian woman who had been Biddle’s lover; a painting made in Haiti of a mother supporting her toddler taking his first steps; and, a painting of frogs.

 

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