This Is How We Do It – The Fictional Portrait: An Investigation into Two Mysterious Paintings


Stephen Brown, Curator of Masterpieces & Curiosities: The Fictional Portrait on view through August 14, 2016


Masterpieces & Curiosities is a series of essay-style exhibitions organized around single works from the Jewish Museum’s permanent collection. Each exhibition examines and rethinks the piece on view by surrounding it with other artworks, objects, documents, and source materials. The latest iteration of the series, The Fictional Portrait, explores the provenance of two colonial American portraits from the Jewish Museum collection, and the complex relationship between portraiture and truth.

Portrait of a Man and Portrait of a Woman. Digital X-ray ©Art Analysis & Research, New York, 2015.

Portrait of a Man and Portrait of a Woman. Digital X-ray ©Art Analysis & Research, New York, 2015.

The Fictional Portrait examines two portraits originally considered to be 18th century paintings of a prominent Jewish couple, Judah and Jacohabed Mears. Acquired by the Jewish Museum in 1957, the portraits became a source of interest in 2007 when questions were raised about the attribution of the works.

In this podcast, Stephen Brown, Associate Curator, speaks about the history of the “Mears” portraits and results from a decade of research, archival investigation, genealogical studies, and X-ray analysis, to identify the artist and sitters.

“This exhibition is a study in knowledge. It’s a study in how we know works of art,” Brown said. The exhibition also provides insight into the “dark side” of the art world, the relationship between truth and lies, and encourages viewers to think about art from a different perspective, he added.

Listen to Brown’s complete interview for further insight and to discover his final hypothesis about the source and history of the two portraits.

On Thursday, July 21, 6:30 pm, join Stephen Brown for This Is How We Do It, a gallery tour and discussion about the process of organizing the exhibition. The program is free with Pay-What-You-Wish admission. RSVP online.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: The Fictional Portrait is on view at The Jewish Museum through August 14.