‘Portraits Of American Tragedy’ Up At Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum

Kyohei Inukai (Japanese, 1886–1954), “Mrs Lorna Bowen,” before 1927, inkjet print from original negative, 2014. On loan from the John and Miyoko Unno Davey Collection, New York.

AMHERST, MASS. — A new exhibition of portraits at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum juxtaposes portraits of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who suffered the kidnapping and murder of their young son, with another early Twentieth Century figure whose tragic story drew a flurry of public interest and media attention at the time: socialite Lorna Mallinson Bowen, who jumped to her death in 1928.

In 1932 the Lindberghs’ 20-month-old son was kidnapped from his crib at the family’s home in New Jersey, and his body was found months later, buried just a few miles away.

In April, 1928, 28-year-old heiress Lorna Bowen jumped to her death from her parents’ 12th-story apartment. Until then, Bowen, too, seemed to have it all: a young newlywed from a wealthy family, with a 17-month-old daughter and, as newspapers reported after her death, “everything to live for.”

These intersecting personal tragedies are the foundation of the Mead’s exhibition, “An Unblemished Mirror of Truth: Kyohei Inukai, Robert Brackman and Portraits of American Tragedy,” which runs until August 24. The exhibition brings together the Mead’s Lindbergh portraits, painted by Robert Brackman (1898–1980), and two portraits by Kyohei Inukai (1886–1954), on loan from the John and Miyoko Unno Davey Collection, as well as a photographic reproduction of his portrait of Bowen.

The show is organized by Bradley Bailey, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter postdoctoral curatorial teaching fellow in Japanese prints at the Mead. He said was fascinated not only by the tabloid-style treatments of these personal tragedies, but by the “parallel lives” of the two painters in the show: “Both were foreign-born, immigrated to the United States in their youth, and went on to become successful painters.” Inukai came to the United States from Japan, and Brackman from Ukraine.

“Brackman has become famous, as an American painter associated with the Ashcan School, while Inukai has been largely forgotten — although this is now changing,” Bradley said. And he said, “While Inukai was primarily a society portraitist, whose clientele included the elite of New York City, Brackman was known for his still lifes and female nudes. He made only a few portraits a year.”

Bailey plans a large-scale exhibition of Inukai’s works, which would be the first retrospective of the artist’s paintings. After Bowen’s death, Inukai enjoyed many years as a successful portrait artist, but his career collapsed in 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Inukai was professionally ostracized. From 1941 until his death in 1954, his longtime mistress, Dorothy Hampton, continued to sit for him. His 1932 portrait of her, “The Javanese Coat,” from the Davey Collection, is included in the  exhibition. This is the first public display since 1933 of that portrait and Inukai’s self-portrait “Myself,” which is also on loan from the Davey Collection. 

The Mead Museum is at 41 Quadrangle Drive. For further information, 413-542-2335 or www.amherst.edu/museums/mead.


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