In Philip Pearlstein’s Female Model on a Ladder, a painting in his current retrospective recently on view at the Brooklyn Museum,1 there is an especially intriguing hand: it is intriguing because its owner has no face. The upper edge of the canvas crops the model’s body at the collar bones, so the hand, answering mimetically to the purpose usually served by a face, becomes the focus of interest. The hand is resting palm down against its owner’s thigh, supporting a certain amount of weight; it is a well-formed female hand with long tapering fingers and unpainted nails. At the wrist the styloid processes of the radius and the ulna markedly protrude; so do the so-called “saddle-joint” of the thumb, which is visibly cleft, and the head of the metacarpal, where the...


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