Arts Desk

Reviewed: “TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art” at the Phillips Collection

TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art—an extensive survey of the famous, soft-focus aesthetic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—sometimes makes you yearn for a right angle, or at least a sharp line. The exhibit is burdened by a surplus of unconvincing religious, emotional and literary fantasies, as well as images that take blurriness to an unnecessary extreme. Fortunately, the exhibit includes some genuine triumphs – early, idealized-yet-believable landscapes by Englishmen P.H. Emerson and George Davison and Frenchman Robert Demarchy; Asian-influenced vertical works by Alfred Stieglitz and his contemporaries; and a few unexpected urban landscapes by American Paul Anderson. But the most winning photographer is Englishman Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943), who offers, just for starters, a proto-Walker Evans image of an attic, a careful arrangement of murk and bright lights in Westminster Abbey, a castle adjoined by a curving, nearly vertical road, and a justly celebrated upward-tilted image of worn cathedral steps. Move over, pictorialists; it’s time for an F.H. Evans retrospective.

At the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, 202-387-2151 . Tue to Sat from 10 am to 5 pm, with extended evening hours on Thursdays until 8:30 pm, and Sun from 11 am to 6 pm.

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