(Un)Like: Life Writing and Portraiture, c.1700-the present

May 3, 2019

(Un)Like: Life Writing and Portraiture, c.1700-the present

3 May 2019
Centre for Life-Writing Research Conference
Council Room, The Strand, King’s College

Portraiture and life-writing have long been understood as genres that, for all their differences, share key concepts. As both genres are concerned with the individual figure, they rely on particularities and specificities, on telling events and characteristic anecdotes and, most importantly, on a representative depiction of the subject in question which was similar or like. Resemblance, similarity, likeness – these were the terms by which works were judged. A letter to the Daily Gazetteer remarked in 1742: ‘I think it is agreed on all Hands that in Biography, as it is in Portrait Painting, a Likeness is to be preserved, if we would give satisfaction in either Science.’ Importantly (and to complicate the study of likeness), the media concerned with likeness were likewise considered to be alike. The art theorist Jonathan Richardson famously wrote in 1715: ‘to sit for one’s Portrait is like to have an Abstract of one’s Life written and published, and to have one consigned over to Honour or Infamy’. Richardson referred to the long tradition of inter- or multi-media portraying and life-writing practices, the linking of literary with visual portraits for mutual benefit and the reciprocal bolstering of genres by providing additional information or another perspective. Next to resemblance and medial proximity, Richardson introduces a third aspect: appreciation or emotional response to portraits and biographies. Samuel Johnson would later write in the Idler no. 45 (1759) that ‘Every man is always present to himself, and has, therefore, little need of his own resemblance; nor can he desire it, but for the sake of those whom he loves, and by whom he hopes to be remembered’. Likeness, it appears, therefore intersects with the representation’s potential to make a person not only like, but also likeable, to have third parties appreciate both the individuals and their representations. This notion of recognition – understood as identification – being closely linked with respect and social approval still shows in such phenomena as Facebook and Instagram, where ‘to like’ equals acceptance, affirmation, or recommendation, signalling approval of the online persona.

This one day conference explores the different layers of likeness in portraiture and life writing in Europe, from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the present day. Subjects include authors, inventors, painters, self-painters and selfie-takers, robots, realists, surrealists, expressionists and others, from literature, painting, photography and film. How does the concept of likeness appear, converge and change across these instances of portraying and portraiture?


8.30-9 Registration & coffee 

9-9.15 Welcome & Introduction: Clare Brant

PANEL I 9.15- 10.30 am
Franziska Gygax: Portraying (in) Language: Gertrude Stein’s Literary Portraits
Max Saunders: Imaginary Portraits: Alfred Cohen and the Rabbi from Dublin
Alex Belsey: Maintaining Distance: Techniques of Removal and Depersonalisation in the Work of Keith Vaughan

PANEL 2 10.30- 11.20 am
Nadja Gernalzick: Queerly (Un)Recognizable: Jerome Hill’s Film Portrait
Darragh O’Donoghue: Auto/biography in the work of disabled artist Stephen Dwoskin

Coffee 11.20-11.35 am

PANEL 3/round table 11.35-12.15 am
Tim Gorichanaz: Self-Portraiture: A Conceptual Exploration
Eliza Maureen Altenhof: Describing one’s self, depicting one’s self: the self-portrait in Contemporary Literature and Visual Arts in the Context of Illness and Death
Ksenia Gusarova: Posing as Oneself: Normativity and Individuality in Current Photographic Practice

PANEL 4 12.15-1.15 pm
Santiago Gonzales Villajos: Portraying Miguel de Cervantes: An Enlightenment’s Task and its Factual Deconstruction
Emrys Jones: The Portrait on the Screen: Film Narrative and Eighteenth-Century Art
Sofya Dmitrieva: Fancy Picture / Sujet de Caprice: Defining the Genre in the Eighteenth-Century European Painting

Lunch 1.15-2 pm

PANEL 5 2-3.15 pm
Claudine van Hensbergen: Behn’s Elusive Likeness: Portraiture’s Place in the Biographical Account
Olivia Ferguson: ‘The Worst Part of Wordsworth’: Intimacy, Accuracy, and the Author Portrait in the Romantic Period
Leigh Wetherall Dickson: Painting Celebrity: Capturing the Character of Lady Caroline Lamb

PANEL 6 /round table 3.15-4.30 pm
Julian North: Portraits for the People: Margaret Gillies’s Portrait of Charles Dickens
Alba Campo Rosillo: The Medium Makes Publicity: Materiality in The Inventor Portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy
Ana Belén Martinéz García: Portraying the Activist Likeness as/in Intermedia Practice

Tea 4.30-5 pm

PANEL 7 5-6 pm
David Veltman: Portraiture as a Mirror: Transcending the Limits of Representativeness in Felix de Boeck’s ‘Double’ Portraits

Teresa Bruś: Increase and Excess in Portraiture: S. I. Witkiewicz


6.30-7.30 Discussion led by Kerstin Maria Pahl

For further information, please see here. 

Contact: Pahl@mpib-berlin.mpg.de