To be human

1 April – 3 September 2017

Featuring mid-20th-century portraits from the Gallery’s permanent collection, this exhibition explores what it is to be human.

Throughout history, artists have painted portraits to capture a likeness, often idealising the appearance of the sitter – this was particularly the case when the sitter also commissioned the portrait. However, as this collection of paintings demonstrates, capturing the individual characteristics and personality of the sitter was not the only aim: many of the artists exhibited here were seeking a way of expressing visually their experience of, and relationship with, the sitter. In so doing, the artists explore expressions of human emotion common to us all – love, desire, frustration, grief and loneliness. The portraits become more than simply depictions of individuals, but a starting point to investigate human relationships generally, and the extent and limitations of emotional intimacy and isolation.

Creativity, conversation and our capacity to experience and reflect upon our emotions are often thought to be what define us as human. In this show, the paintings prompt us to consider the construction of identity, and the gulf between the way we present ourselves and the way we are perceived and in turn perceive others.

The exhibition includes a new acquisition, Miss Monter/Descendre by Boris Nzebo.

Portraits by

  • Frank Auerbach
  • Francis Bacon
  • William Brooker
  • Evelyn Dunbar
  • Lucian Freud
  • Alberto Giacometti
  • David Hockney
  • Robert MacBryde
  • Amadeo Modigliani
  • Boris Nzebo
  • Marie-Louise von Motesiczky
  • William Roberts


Caption: Boris Nzebo, Miss Monter Descendre detail


Further information:
  • Opening times Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 5.00 pm
  • Location Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
  • This is a free exhibition
  • Further information 0161 235 8888