"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, December 13, 2019

Ethel Rosenberg

This 1952 drawing of Ethel Rosenberg by Elizabeth Catlett hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
For artist Elizabeth Catlett, the evidence against convicted (and eventually executed) spy Ethel Rosenberg during her controversial trial seemed far weaker than the case against her husband, Julius. Catlett made this drawing of Rosenberg for a protest poster published by the Taller de Gräfica Popular, a Mexican printmaking collective dedicated to social causes. The role of women as mothers, leaders, and survivors had been a potent theme for Catlett throughout her career, and her forceful portrait of Rosenberg was intended to be a confrontational feminist statement.

Copying the likeness from a newspaper photograph, Catlett straightened the head, turned it slightly for a more frontal pose, and singled out the face alone. By transforming the news photo into an iconic image, she universalized Rosenberg's sacrifices. “Art,” Catlett once wrote, “can provoke thought and prepare us for change.” -- NPG
This AP photo by Anthony Camerano appears to be the source Catlett's image. ( See Mark Kramer's article Why Ethel Rosenberg Should Not Be Exonerated.)

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