Tour of Exhibition Portrait Index Catalog and Traveling Exhibition
Ralph Barton 18911931
"The human soul would be a hideous object if it were possible to lay it bare," caricaturist Ralph Barton wrote in 1926. In his self-portrait, Barton reveals what he usually took pains to conceal: the writhing turmoil of the psyche. Inscribed "with apologies to Greco and God," the picture suggests the artist's own mental anguish. The probable model for this brutal self-examination was a painting by El Greco, purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1924.

Despite personal charm, wealth, and an unrivaled reputation for high-style caricatures of his celebrity friends, Barton could not escape his chronic manic depression and took his own life shortly before his fortieth birthday in 1931. But he had helped to invent a new type of celebrity caricature that was too stylish to be cruel. "It is not the caricaturist's job to be penetrating," he noted. "It is his job to put down the figure a man cuts before his fellows in his attempt to conceal the writhings of his soul."

Watercolor and graphite on paperboard mounted on illustration board, circa 1925
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Home | Teacher's Guide | Credits | Comments | Copyright