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Hugh Hurd (1925-1995) was an actor and civil rights activist. Neel probes Hurd’s personality through focused attention to the details of his face and hands. Combining areas of flat color with bold lines and expressive brushstrokes, Neel evokes a sense of style, dignity, and mystery in the figure by focusing on his ambiguous facial expression and fashionable suit and jewelry (watch, rings, and cufflinks).

Neel once said that painting portraits is like “writing history.” Beyond just capturing the body, posture, and countenance of a person, a portrait “embodied the character of an era.” Here, Neel captures not only the character of Hugh Hurd the activist, but also the cautious determination of the civil rights era from which this portrait emerged in 1964.

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