Portrait Mode: Celebrating with the National Portrait Gallery

5 June - 22 September 2023 London

To coincide with the re-opening of the National Portrait Gallery, Omer Tiroche Gallery is pleased to announce our forthcoming exhibition, Portrait Mode. Spanning over a century of portraiture, the exhibition aims to illustrate the unwavering fascination and importance of the subject matter. Evidence of this is highlighted in the exhibited works by both Modern and contemporary artists, such as Frank Auerbach, Kees van Dongen, Jean Dubuffet, Lucian Freud, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.


Portraiture is one of the oldest motifs in art, with prehistoric and ancient civilisations creating forms in their likeness through a multitude of mediums, from plastered skulls used in Neolithic burial practices, to Egyptian wall carvings. Traditionally, portraits were commissioned by patrons as a means to record their status and achievement, almost always in an idealised and flattering manner. Over the centuries, portraiture has evolved and expanded to include realistic portrayals of sitters and contemporary life. Displays of grandiosity and pomp have given way to humble moments, as seen in Kees van Dongen’s L'Ânier (L'Ânier de Scheveningen), 1912, a tender depiction of the artist’s daughter, Dolly, one of his favourite models. Riding atop a donkey along the beach in Scheveningen, Dolly stares directly at the viewer, head turned as if her name had just been called. Elements of the artist’s iconic fauvist style merge with a pared-back colour palette, painted in such a way to reflect his daughter’s innocence. The portrait reveals van Dongen’s softer side as he captures an intimate memory of a seaside trip.


Portraiture is more than mere representation – it can highlight the psychology and culture of the sitter, as well as the wider societal context they exist within. Beyond this, portraits can also art function as a vehicle of projection – revealing as much about the viewer as they do the subject.


British-Ghanian artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye implicitly understands the potential of the relationship between viewer and subject. Bird of Paradise, executed in 2009, almost one hundred years after van Dongen’s L'Ânier (L'Ânier de Scheveningen), is a stunning example of her renowned capability as a contemporary figurative artist. Referencing the legacy of Old Masters, Lynette inserts her imagined Black figures into the lineage of European academic painting, traditionally an overwhelmingly White canon. The fictional sitter is painted from the artist's imagination in quick, expressive brushstrokes, in her signature sombre colour palette. Part of the Yiadom-Boakye’s Bird series, the sitter wears a ruff around her collar, a recurrent motif in the artist’s oeuvre. It is an element rich with associations, including carnival costumes and sixteenth-century Netherlandish portraiture. With an arresting gaze, the figure’s purposefully ambiguous gender invites the viewer to ask questions: Who are they? How did they come to be? In a world with little mystery left, her portraits are generously liberating.


Portrait Mode brings together a diverse collection of works that pay homage to the enduring allure and power of portraiture. With works dating back over a hundred years, the exhibition showcases the evolution of the motif and its ability to portray the complexities of the human experience.

Installation Views