Artwork of the month November

Matts Leiderstam, He & She, 2000

Matts Leiderstam

* 1956 in Gothenburg, Sweden

He & She, 2000

Cibachrome, 2 parts

each 140 x 106 x 4 cm


This work by Matts Leiderstam consists of two photographs of old paintings exhibited together. Each set on an easel, we see two unframed paintings showing a person's portrait: on the left a man, on the right a woman. The paintings are works of the Finnish painter Isak Wacklin (1720–1758) depicting Samuel Wacklin, the artist's vicar brother, and his wife Elisabeth. Both paintings were done in 1755. Double portraits of couples like this became very popular in leading middle-class circles in the course of the 18th century, but this genre had already been common at rulers' courts since the Renaissance. The vicar and his wife were obviously from "elevated" circles themselves, as evidenced particularly by the woman's lavish dress, while the man is shown in his "professional attire", the cassock.

Focusing on the facial features, the similarity between the two is striking. If we could only see the faces, it would be hard to distinguish man and woman, and the question is whether the two portraitees were related. Or did the painter in fact use his own face as the basis for these portraits? Regardless of any psychological aspects of this question and its answer, this work demonstrates very clearly that a painted portrait is always a construct. Artists in ancient times already had a canon of personality traits for depicting the human body and face, and these traits showed through in their representations: a strong chin as a sign of assertiveness, a curved nose as an expression of courage and decisiveness, and so on. It may therefore be the case that the outward similarity of these two individuals did not actually reflect the visual reality but instead that the painter wished to express some inner similarity between the two. If so, these portraits would be diametrically opposed to our modern understanding of the concept.

Friedemann Malsch

<b>Matts Leiderstam, He & She, 2000</b>
Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein highlights a work from the permanent collection each month throughout the year. Works from the collection of the Hilti Art Foundation are also included in this series on a regular basis.