Portraits and lies

Neil Jeffares

MoroniNews of the Royal Academy’s impending Moroni exhibition, with its gushing publicity (and the somewhat more sober assessment of his reputation in Art History News) reminds me of a curious short story by Henry James, a writer whose immense reputation is every bit deserved, and (not at all the same) who is also a personal favourite.

In “The Liar” (included in the collection A London Life and other tales, but originally published in 1888) the plot depends on the idea that a portraitist can produce a portrait of an inveterate liar which will, without further explanation, convey this failing to viewers. By way of general background in the story, Moroni’s Tailor (the first of the National Gallery’s eleven Moronis, acquired in 1862) is held up as a model of incisive portraiture, but not even this fine work provides any such insight into the inner life of the sitter…

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