Blurring the lines between memory, history, and imagination, Portrait of Althea Viafora exemplifies the extraordinary artistic ingenuity that has distinguished Elizabeth Peyton as amongst the most iconic figurative painters of her generation. Rendered in subtle washes of sepia and umber pigment, the present work depicts the artist’s first gallerist, Althea Viafora, who gave Peyton her first solo exhibition in 1987; painted the following year, Portrait of Althea Viafora is a rare embodiment of those pivotal early years of Peyton’s celebrated artistic practice. As her first significant portrait of a prominent art world figure, Portrait of Althea Viafora establishes the precedent for Peyton's well-known later portraits of Gavin Brown, Larry Gagosian, and Colin De Land, alongside many other portraits of the friends and figures who populated the artist's personal world. In tribute to Viafora’s seminal role during those years, Peyton executes her portrait on a dramatic scale highly unusual for her oeuvre. Invoking the stately grandeur of old-world portraiture, Peyton depicts her sitter with a self-possessed elegance reminiscent of da Vinci’s Lady with Ermine or Ingres’ Mademoiselle Rivière; rendered with exquisite care, her delicate profile suggests at once strength and vulnerability, intimacy and ethereality, empathy and authority. Typifying the artist’s signature blend of lush romanticism with an edgy, post-punk undertone, Peyton counterbalances her sitter’s modest dress with an electrifying shock of platinum blonde hair that imbues the portrait with a fresh, contemporary charge. Following her 1987 exhibition at Althea Viafora Gallery, Peyton would not show again until her now-legendary exhibition in room 828 at the Chelsea Hotel in 1993, where she presented bewitchingly androgynous portraits of such historical figures as Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette, among others. Although fewer than fifty people were in attendance, this now legendary exhibition marked the beginning of Peyton’s celebrated re-invigoration of figurative painting over the course of the 1990s. Painted five years before, Portrait of Althea Viafora is among the first embodiments of that project, and stands as enduring testament to the compelling delicacy and quiet potency that has, from the earliest moments of her practice, marked the very finest of Peyton’s portraits.