Smile

Art historian Kathy Galitz on the meaning behind the smile.

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And I've realized, as a tooth-smiler, I'm violating every rule of decorum, at least through the nineteenth century.

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  • "Smile" by Kathy Galitz
    1280852
  • Two years  |  Kathy Galitz
    7461024
  • The Love Letter  |  ca. 1770  |  Jean-Honorè Fragonard (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.49)
    8071024
  • Statue of a kouros (youth)  |  ca. 590–580 b.c.; Archaic  |  Greek, Attic  |  Naxian marble  |  Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1)
    5331024
  • Statue of a kouros (youth)  |  ca. 590–580 b.c.; Archaic  |  Greek, Attic  |  Naxian marble  |  Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1)
    12251024
  • Head of a Buddha  |  second half of 6th century  |  Angkor Borei, Cambodia  |  Stone  |  Gift of Doris Wiener, 2005 (2005.512)
    7211024
  • Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc (nèe Françoise Poncelle, 1788–1839)  |  1823  |  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1918 (19.77.2)
    8041024
  • Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc (nèe Françoise Poncelle, 1788–1839)  |  1823  |  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1918 (19.77.2)
    1066934
  • Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart")  |  1623  |  Frans Hals (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
    7611024
  • George Washington  |  ca. 1795–96  |  Gilbert Stuart (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.160)
    8571024
  • George Washington  |  ca. 1795–96  |  Gilbert Stuart (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.160)
    1280975
  • Photograph  |  1959–60, print 1997  |  Seydou Keita (Malian)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Purchase, Joseph and Ceil Mazer Foundation Inc. Gift, 1997 (1997.364)
    7231024
  • Photograph  |  1959–60, print 1997  |  Seydou Keita (Malian)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Purchase, Joseph and Ceil Mazer Foundation Inc. Gift, 1997 (1997.364)
    1125909
  • The Calmady Children (Emily, 1818–?1906, and Laura Anne, 1820–1894)  |  Sir Thomas Lawrence (English)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.1)
    10141024
  • Statue of a bearded man with votive offerings  |  ca. 475–450 b.c.; Classical  |  Cypriot; Said to be from the temple at Golgoi  |  Limestone  |  The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 (74.51.2461)
    6941024
  • Head of an Angel  |  ca. 1250  |  France, Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral (?)  |  Limestone  |  Purchase, Michel David-Weil Gift, 1990 (1990.132)
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  • Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes  |  1897  |  John Singer Sargent (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    4801024
  • "Smiling Figure"  |  7th–8th century  |  Mexico, Remojadas  |  Ceramic  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1211)
    8711024
  • Kathy Galitz
    1280852
  • My name is Kathy Galitz, and I'm an art historian. A visitor asked me a question about smiles in portraiture. And it took me back to my childhood.

  • I sort of thought of a smile as one thing, you know an emotional response to feeling happy. And of course those are the best smiles because they're completely spontaneous, they're completely uninhibited, completely natural.

  • Whereas the whole history of art shows an array of smiles.

  • I learned about these male youths in college. They have this expression on their face that's been described as the archaic smile. The sculptor was simply looking for a way to

  • animate the face. He's not actually smiling for any kind of expressive or emotional reason, it's actually an aesthetic function.

  • You always see the Buddha with this smile. And of course the Buddha isn't smiling because he's happy, well, in the sense that you or I would be happy, rather it's a smile that's symbolic of enlightenment, of wisdom, of compassion. Yet it does serve as a way of connecting us to the Buddha.

  • Madame Leblanc has just the faintest hint of a smile. It's that enigmatic smile that makes one think of probably the most famous smile, the Mona Lisa smile. And it was just at the time that Ingres was working on his portrait, that French art critics had rediscovered Leonardo's Mona Lisa and they were fixated on her smile and what it meant

  • and nobody could arrive at a clear meaning. So I sort of see Madame Leblanc and Mona Lisa as sisters in this sort of smiling.

  • I noticed a lot of smiling in scenes from everyday life. This couple in front of an inn, they're actually—he especially—is laughing, and you see exposed teeth and everything. And exposed teeth before the era of modern dentistry is somewhat of a big deal. And of course they're smiling because they're probably drunk. You can see the raised wine glass and their rosy cheeks. In contrast

  • you've got George Washington: famously reticent, non-smiling. I mean it's an image we all know from looking at a one-dollar bill. George is staring at us, completely not smiling. He's our first president, commander in chief. It wouldn't be appropriate for him to have a big grin. He has to project an image of gravitas and seriousness.

  • I think some have used the excuse, well he had these false teeth, and they were terrible and stained and he didn't want anyone to see them, because remember this was before Invisalign braces and teeth whitening. But imagine if he was smiling, your dollar bill: completely different.

  • This work by Seydou Keita especially spoke to me because on the one hand, the figure is posed very formally. But suddenly and most unexpectedly, she's smiling

  • directly out at the viewer, and it just has a way of kind of engaging you and bringing you into the picture that, if she weren't smiling, I think the work would have a completely different effect. But it's that smile that breaks down the barriers.

  • The smile, as trivial it may seem to some, or something that we take for granted, actually is

  • laden with a range of meanings that are much more nuanced

  • much more subtle than I had anticipated. And I've realized

  • you know, as a tooth-smiler, I'm violating every rule of decorum, at least through the 19th century.

  • I've always just been a person who's not hidden her smile. And I get teased about it or known for it.

  • I smile a lot, maybe too much, but that's who I am.

  • 49.7.49
    The Love Letter, ca. 1770, Jean-Honorè Fragonard (French), Oil on canvas The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.49)
  • 32.11.1
    Statue of a kouros (youth), ca. 590–580 b.c.; Archaic, Greek, Attic, Naxian marble Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1)
  • 2005.512
    Head of a Buddha, second half of 6th century, Angkor Borei, Cambodia, Stone Gift of Doris Wiener, 2005 (2005.512)
  • 19.77.2
    Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc (nèe Françoise Poncelle, 1788–1839), 1823, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French), Oil on canvas Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1918 (19.77.2)
  • 14.40.602
    Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart"), 1623, Frans Hals (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
  • 07.160
    George Washington, ca. 1795–96, Gilbert Stuart (American), Oil on canvas Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.160)
  • 1997.364
    Photograph, 1959–60, print 1997, Seydou Keita (Malian), Gelatin silver print Purchase, Joseph and Ceil Mazer Foundation Inc. Gift, 1997 (1997.364)
  • 25.110.1
    The Calmady Children (Emily, 1818–?1906, and Laura Anne, 1820–1894), Sir Thomas Lawrence (English), Oil on canvas Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.1)
  • 74.51.2461
    Statue of a bearded man with votive offerings, ca. 475–450 b.c.; Classical, Cypriot; Said to be from the temple at Golgoi, Limestone The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 (74.51.2461)
  • 1990.132
    Head of an Angel, ca. 1250, France, Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral (?), Limestone Purchase, Michel David-Weil Gift, 1990 (1990.132)
  • 38.104
    Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
  • 1979.206.1211
    "Smiling Figure", 7th–8th century, Mexico, Remojadas, Ceramic The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1211)
  • The Love Letter, ca. 1770, Jean-Honorè Fragonard (French), Oil on canvas The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.49)
    Statue of a kouros (youth), ca. 590–580 b.c.; Archaic, Greek, Attic, Naxian marble Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1)
    Head of a Buddha, second half of 6th century, Angkor Borei, Cambodia, Stone Gift of Doris Wiener, 2005 (2005.512)
    Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc (nèe Françoise Poncelle, 1788–1839), 1823, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French), Oil on canvas Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1918 (19.77.2)
    Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart"), 1623, Frans Hals (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
    George Washington, ca. 1795–96, Gilbert Stuart (American), Oil on canvas Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.160)
    Photograph, 1959–60, print 1997, Seydou Keita (Malian), Gelatin silver print Purchase, Joseph and Ceil Mazer Foundation Inc. Gift, 1997 (1997.364)
    The Calmady Children (Emily, 1818–?1906, and Laura Anne, 1820–1894), Sir Thomas Lawrence (English), Oil on canvas Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.1)
    Statue of a bearded man with votive offerings, ca. 475–450 b.c.; Classical, Cypriot; Said to be from the temple at Golgoi, Limestone The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 (74.51.2461)
    Head of an Angel, ca. 1250, France, Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral (?), Limestone Purchase, Michel David-Weil Gift, 1990 (1990.132)
    Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    "Smiling Figure", 7th–8th century, Mexico, Remojadas, Ceramic The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1211)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    The Love Letter
    ca. 1770
    Jean-Honorè Fragonard (French)
    Oil on canvas
    The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.49)
    On view: Gallery 615
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Statue of a kouros (youth)
    ca. 590–580 b.c.; Archaic
    Greek, Attic
    Naxian marble
    Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1)
    On view: Gallery 154
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Head of a Buddha
    second half of 6th century
    Angkor Borei, Cambodia
    Stone
    Gift of Doris Wiener, 2005 (2005.512)
    On view: Gallery 245
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc (nèe Françoise Poncelle, 1788–1839)
    1823
    Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1918 (19.77.2)
    On view: Gallery 801
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart")
    1623
    Frans Hals (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
    On view: Gallery 634
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    George Washington
    ca. 1795–96
    Gilbert Stuart (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.160)
    On view: Gallery 753
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Photograph
    1959–60, print 1997
    Seydou Keita (Malian)
    Gelatin silver print
    Purchase, Joseph and Ceil Mazer Foundation Inc. Gift, 1997 (1997.364)
    Not on view
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    The Calmady Children (Emily, 1818–?1906, and Laura Anne, 1820–1894)
    Sir Thomas Lawrence (English)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.1)
    On view: Gallery 629
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Statue of a bearded man with votive offerings
    ca. 475–450 b.c.; Classical
    Cypriot; Said to be from the temple at Golgoi
    Limestone
    The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 (74.51.2461)
    On view: Gallery 175
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Head of an Angel
    ca. 1250
    France, Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral (?)
    Limestone
    Purchase, Michel David-Weil Gift, 1990 (1990.132)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 008

    Medieval Art and The Cloisters
    The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park
    Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes
    1897
    John Singer Sargent (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    On view: Gallery 771
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    "Smiling Figure"
    7th–8th century
    Mexico, Remojadas
    Ceramic
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1211)
    On view: Gallery 358
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art