Toni Morrison has been writing about the experiences of African Americans since her first novel, The Bluest Eye, appeared in 1970. With the publication of each new work, both her fan base and critical acclaim grew, and she won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon (1977) and the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1987). In 1993 Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first black woman to become a Nobel laureate.
Robert McCurdy begins his painted portraits with a photograph, asking his sitters to address the unseen viewer directly and to make no gestures. He seeks an image that has no implied past or future but exists in the eternal present. McCurdy's goal is to provide a neutral environment in order to maximize the highly personal nature of the encounter between subject and viewer.
This 2006 portrait of Toni Morrison, by Robert McCurdy, is on view in the “Twentieth Century Americans” exhibition at National Portrait Gallery, on the museum's third floor. Warren Perry, researcher at the National Portrait Gallery, recently discussed the painting at a Face-to-Face portrait talk. You can read more about Toni Morrison in this previous blog post.
Listen to Warren Perry's Face-to-Face talk on Toni Morrison (25:46)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, April 9, when Ann Shumard, curator of photographs, speaks about Samuel F. B. Morse. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Toni Morrison / Robert McCurdy, 2006 / Oil on canvas / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; on loan from Ian and Annette Cumming