Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Molti Ritratti: John F Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy (1917-63), as we all know, did not serve even one full term in office. So if portraits of him were to be painted while President, there was less opportunity than usual.

On the other hand, Kennedy was the subject of thousands of photographs, and it is through these that we shape our visual image of the man. Those photographs also served as the basis for posthumous portrait paintings created by both professionals and amateurs. Below are examples of Kennedy portraits done by professionals. Some were painted while he was alive, others later. And some paintings done before his 22 November 1963 death might have been entirely photograph-based.


By Norman Rockwell - 1960
The Saturday Evening Post magazine would sometimes feature covers with paintings of presidential candidates in the weeks leading up to an election. The painting shown above was published in its 29 October 1960 issue. I don't know if Rockwell saw Kennedy in person while working up the image. He was able to spend an hour and a half with Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 in conjunction with a Post cover appearing before the voting that year.

By Cecil Calvert Beall - 1962
This looks like it might have been done from life, but I have no solid proof.

By Elaine de Kooning - 1962
This was probably done from life because it is known that Kennedy sat for her.

By William Franklin Draper - 1962
Also probably done from life.

Sketch by Bernie Fuchs
Fuchs was an illustrator and not yet a fine-arts painter when he visited the White House to make sketches of the President. David Apatoff posted useful information about it here.

By Daniel Greene - pastel, 1963
I have no information as to whether this was done before or after JFK's 1963 death. And if it was done before, I don't know if Greene did it from life.

By Bernie Fuchs
I don't have a date for this, but it was probably painted on the basis of photographs and the sketches mentioned above.

By Jamie Wyeth - 1967
Clearly posthumous.

By Aaron Shikler - 1970
This is the official White House portrait of Kennedy, painted years after he died.

I apologize for the information gaps noted in the captions above. If readers can supply facts regarding whether or not Kennedy actually sat for the unverified (in my remarks) portraits created in his lifetime, please let us know via a comment.


David Apatoff said...

Don-- Since you have layed out such a neat array of different artist's perspectives, I would be interested in your editorial reaction to these.

For example, what do you think about Elaine de Kooning's painting? I am not wedded to representational art, but I find her portrait absolutely ghastly. I like comparing the Wyeth with the Rockwell. As I recall, Wyeth worked on his version for nearly two years, while Rockwell knocked his version out quickly for deadline.

Donald Pittenger said...

David -- I'm writing this in a Galway, Ireland hotel room on an (ugh!) iPad virtual keyboard. So this will have to be brief.

Aesthetically, I like the Wyeth, Rockwell, and the Fuchs drawing, probably because they convey JFK convincingly and accurately while incorporating the artist's stylistic personality.

Green's work is strongly done, but almost too representational.

I also do not like de Kooning's work. Placement of the left arm is bizarre and distracting. The hands also distract, pulling attention from the face. I am almost as big a Fuchs fan as you are, but I have the same complaint regarding distracting hands in his painted version of JFK.

The remaining paintings are pretty much nothing special, and I've had enough of this "keyboard" for now so I'll quit at this point.

Unknown said...

I really respond to the Wyeth the most as it seems to have captured a moment in time as if he was caught considering someones comments. Rockwells is a classic of course.