Since the dawn of civilization, art lovers have been drawn to entrancing women. Venus de Milo. Aphrodite. La Gioconda. Michelle “Bombshell” McGee. (Scratch that last one.) No matter how sophisticated we become, we never tire of looking at them. Knowing this, gallery owner Ann Long showed her artists some of the most popular portraits from previous shows. These inspired the classically trained painters to create brand new works, and the result is Woman, which Long describes as “one of the prettiest shows we’ve ever done.” While there are no bombshells, the exhibition is full of exquisite portraits, subtle references to Old Masters, and coded imagery.

Paula Rubino’s “Trilby and Svengali” dominates the show. At 58″ x 45″, it’s the largest oil painting. It also stands out because of the loose, organic brushstrokes that Rubino uses. The work’s two red-skirted women look as if they’ve been interrupted mid-conversation and are miffed about it. They both bear more than a passing resemblance to the artist, showing two sides of her personality — quizzical and world weary.

Next to the double self portrait is the more traditional “Winter Profile” by Louise Fenne. This side-on look at a pale-skinned young woman demonstrates Fenne’s delicate, precise style. Lotta Blokker contributes a bronze bust called “Woman.” The face and hair are full of alluring detail, but her expression is snooty, giving her a simultaneously touchable and untouchable air.

Symbols abound in Kamille Corry’s piece “Hesitant Muse.” A young woman sits with her hand around a small glass bottle, eyes closed, a contemplative expression on her face. She wears feathers in her hair to symbolize her potential strengths. In the background are moths (desire and mortality) and skeletal branches (the death of a season). The muse’s green and yellow dress, along with her bottle, hint at a venerable history of paintings featuring Mary Magdalene with an alabaster jar.

Different examples of beauty include Fenne’s mystical “Elf,” who has wings and large brown eyes, and “Tine in Winter,” showing a more mature, less innocent face. With paintings like these, Long encourages us to look beyond our usual perceptions of beauty. Beneath the smooth-skinned façade, we find emotional pain leading to a renewed sense of self.

On view through late April. Ann Long Fine Art. 54 Broad St. (843) 577-0447.

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