Face Lift: Caption This!
Week One: Ms. Johnson and Colonel Elliott

Ms. Johnson (Estelle) and Colonel Barnard Elliott, Jr.

In conjunction with our Face Lift exhibition, we are launching a caption writing contest and we need your participation! Each week of the exhibition, curator Sara Arnold will present a set of images—as paired in the gallery—and we invite you to submit a clever comment on our blog that expresses your own interpretation of the comparison. The author of our favorite caption each week will receive a free admission pass to the Gibbes. At the end of the campaign, all winning captions will be entered in a drawing for a facial from The Spa at Charleston Place.

Read the full terms and conditions for the Face Lift: Caption This! contest.

Week One: Ms. Johnson (Estelle), 1972, by Barkley Hendricks (American, b. 1945) and Colonel Barnard Elliott, Jr., ca. 1766, by Jeremiah Theus (Swiss/American, 1716–1744). What do you think these two would say to one another at a cocktail party? Or if they met on the street today? Join in the fun and submit your caption by adding a comment below.

Curatorial Perspective

Pose and costume are key indicators of the sitter’s status and identity in portraiture. Analyzing these subtle details of dress and comportment can yield an even more complex reading of the painting and the message that the artist is trying to express in its execution. While the style of dress differs dramatically in these two works, similarities in the subjects’ poses show a similar strength of self-awareness in differing social and cultural climates.

Of Swiss birth, Jeremiah Theus arrived in Charleston in 1735 where he became a preeminent early painter in terms of both productivity and reputation. Known for his portraits of prosperous Charleston families, Theus worked in the limner tradition which emphasized the flat, linear, and above all decorative qualities of the subject. In this portrait of Colonel Barnard Elliott, every detail of the costume’s fabric and texture is exquisitely rendered. Viewed in conjunction with the background of the Classical columns and his assertive pose, Elliott’s costume serves as a declaration of his wealth and prominence in the community. Elliott was a member of the First Provincial Congress of South Carolina, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the American Revolution, as well as a successful owner of rice plantations.

Though Ms. Johnson does not appear to share the prosperity enjoyed by Colonel Elliott, her dress and pose also convey a message. This portrait is part of Hendricks’s “limited palette series” executed after a trip to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. So taken by these artists’ use of draped clothing to reveal solidity of form and the volumes of the body, Hendricks translated these lessons into a contemporary style of painting. Ms. Johnson is set against a solid color, and her closely fitted, black outfit serves to boldly delineate her form against the flat background. From a cultural standpoint, this painting also makes a bold statement about the racial, cultural, and economic divides in America. Painted in the 1970s, Ms. Johnson’s confident pose exudes a challenge to the status quo and is an assertion of minority presence, whereas the pose of Colonel Elliot reinforces the dominance of the white landed gentry.

14 Responses to “Face Lift: Caption This!
Week One: Ms. Johnson and Colonel Elliott

  1. on 09 Sep 2010 at 1:33 pmJen Smith

    Forget Deitrich and DiMaggio. These two were Madonna’s real inspirations for “Vogue.”

  2. on 09 Sep 2010 at 3:09 pmThomas Hamm

    “So, my dear, what do you think of my pantaloons?”

  3. on 09 Sep 2010 at 3:50 pmDFinamore

    “My dear Ms Johnson… have you been ignoring me? I texted you 10 times today and nothing. What’s up?”

  4. on 09 Sep 2010 at 4:10 pmKevin Kurtz

    From the episode of “The Jeffersons” in which Weezy Jefferson met Thomas Jefferson.

  5. on 09 Sep 2010 at 5:12 pmKim Rich

    “I cannot believe he’s wearing those white pants after Labor Day…”

  6. on 09 Sep 2010 at 6:29 pmNeita Wiese

    “There he goes again… riffling through Michael Jackson’s closet…this time he better take it to the cleaners”.

  7. on 10 Sep 2010 at 6:51 amRachel Chesser

    “And, I thought I was lookin’ sassy!”

  8. on 10 Sep 2010 at 1:22 pmAllison Skipper

    “Don’t you think the hand-on-hip pose is thinning?”

  9. on 12 Sep 2010 at 10:32 amCindy O

    “Frankly, Colonel dear, I don’t give a damn!”

  10. on 12 Sep 2010 at 12:07 pmsyndy

    “Darlin, you’re sooo 1700’s.. it’s the 70’s that have made a come back”

  11. on 13 Sep 2010 at 9:48 amEryn Parrish

    So… You come here often?

  12. on 15 Sep 2010 at 12:43 pmCindy O'Neil

    Him: Zounds, this party is such a bore.
    Her: You got that right, daddy-o. How about we split this joint and go someplace really groovy?

  13. on 15 Sep 2010 at 6:35 pmPj Suttle

    COLONEL: “My dear Miss Estelle – you certaintly are a fetching modern woman! What is that divine essence emanating from you? Jasmine perhaps?”
    ESTELLE: “Colonel! Man you are one hot bucket of fancy in that jacket! And dayuuumm if you don’t need to take a shower & beat that stanky smelling fancy jacket against a rock! Don’t y’all people bathe regularly!? And yes I am wearing my jasmine body oil. What up?”

  14. on 20 Sep 2010 at 3:49 amTimber Sash Windows

    Colonel: Hi babe, would you like to dance with me?
    Estelle: sure. but are you comfortable with modern dance?

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