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Portraits at an Exhibition

An alienated young man searches for his life’s purpose through a gallery of portraits at an exhibition. Afraid he may have contracted HIV the night before during a risky sexual encounter and only beginning to fathom the possible consequences, Robin winds his way through the galleries, studying the portraits of people from faraway places and times, looking for clues in the lives of others to the mystery of his own discontent. Several masterpieces of portrait painting, reproduced in the novel, become the focal-points of Robin’s physical and spiritual journey, including works by Sandro Botticelli, Diego Velazquez, and John Singer Sargent. Each portrait opens like a time capsule to Robin’s gaze, releasing stories about the sitters, artists, and critics who, over the centuries, have turned their everyday struggles, disappointments, and dreams into transcendent works of art. Portraits at an Exhibition plunges the reader directly into the mind of Robin, seeing as he sees, reading what he reads, and learning, along with him, the often unsettling life lessons that only the closest observation of great art can teach.


“Horrigan tackles issues often associated with the gay community, but he also addresses the broader notion of how we interpret faces, bodies, and behaviors through keen observation. A challenging, worthwhile account of the workings of the mind amidst the contemplation of art and beauty.” – Kirkus Reviews

”Patrick Horrigan’s Portraits at an Exhibition explores the power of portraiture to transport us into distant worlds of imagination and desire. The celebrated paintings featured in the book are far from static images to be dissected and tamed by art historical analysis. Instead, they function as shimmering mirrors and portals, leading Horrigan’s characters and readers into deeply felt journeys of the mind, senses, and spirit. Like the Renaissance painters whose works the novel so acutely reproduces, Horrigan’s subjects are men and women who struggle to shape their own destinies even as they confront the vagaries of chance, the haunting shadows of loss and doubt, and the relentless pull of their own desires.”
– Mario DiGangi, Mario DiGangi, Professor of English and Lesbian/Gay Studies at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

”A masterful debut novel that calls into question the barriers between artist, subject and admirer. Portraits at an Exhibition is one of those rare novels that both makes the reader think and feel simultaneously, a vibrant and intellectually challenging exploration of love, family, illness, loss and art, told through five of the world’s most celebrated paintings.”
– Jacob M. Appel, author of The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up

”Horrigan’s protagonist reminds readers that the menace of AIDS has never truly left gay life. Yet, this is not a story of sorrow but of finding hope through appreciating art, a sovereign remedy our community has always relied on, be it John Singer Sargent or Keith Haring. A recommended read for us all.” – Jameson Currier, author of Where the Rainbow Ends and A Gathering Storm

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