'Fabiola' by Francis Alÿs at the National Portrait Gallery
Just over a week ago I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Francis Alÿs exhibition 'Fabiola', supported by the Dia Art Foundation. He has spent years gathering reproductions of a now lost painting by Jean-Jacques Henner. Split over two rooms, the viewer is confronted with around 300 slight variations on the same image of a young woman in profile wearing a red veil.
At first, of course, it is the similarity that strikes you. Gradually, though, it is the differences that become more intriguing.
Why has this artist chosen to turn her face more towards the viewer? Why has this one reversed the image so Fabiola is facing right? All of the images have her in a red head-dress save a few, and they all have her in green instead. Did these artists all choose green as an alternative individually, or was there just one switch to green that has rippled through the images. By contrast, in the miniatures cabinet, there is a variation that appears in blue twice, but none in green.
I didn't get a picture - the National Portrait Gallery does not permit photographic portraits of their portraits - but there is an official image gallery of the exhibition from when it was displayed at the Hispanic Society of America in 2007.
And what about the subject herself?
According to my Dictionary of Saints - yes there are things I still prefer to have listed in books - she died in 399. After the scandal of going through a divorce and re-marrying, upon the death of her second husband she turned to good works and repentance. She opened a hospital and a hostel for pilgrims in Rome, which was, according to Jerome, known throughout the world. Fabiola is thought to have travelled widely and visited Bethlehem. Her feast day is celebrated on December 27th.
Here are another couple of views of the exhibition when it was on at LACMA in Los Angeles.
Photo thanks to lillieinthecity
Photo thanks to mind on fire
The Fabiola exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is free and runs until September 20, 2009