barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


20th-Century Portrait Drawings

From formal commissions to intimate sketches of friends and lovers, Defining Faces focuses on portraiture in a century that witnessed radical changes in artistic style.

The exhibition – the second in a prestigious collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, London – examines the function of, and the variety of approaches to the genre. Focusing on celebrated personalities from the 20th century, it features emotionally charged and elegant likenesses of sitters including Henry Moore, Ted Hughes and Stephen Hawking, by artists such as Sylvia Plath, Percy Wyndham-Lewis, and Oskar Kokoschka.

Drawings in the traditional and modern media are complemented by original related letters and books from the University’s Cadbury Research Library, with many items never before on public display.

The exhibition, co-curated with postgraduate students from the History of Art department, University of Birmingham celebrates sensitivity and brilliance in the depiction of subjects who themselves helped define an epoch.


To complement Defining Face, the Understanding British Portraits network will be holding a one-day seminar, ‘Contemporary responses to Portrait Collections’, in Birmingham on Tuesday 16 July. For more information, or to book a place, click here:


Now you can follow Defining Faces on Twitter (@DefiningFaces) and Facebook (

To hear some of the postgraduate student involved in curating the exhibition talk about their experiences, click here.


Above Image: Tom Phillips, Richard Edward Morphet, 1972/3. Pastel. © DACS/Tom Phillips


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