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Sunday, May 29, 2016

John F. Kennedy Portraits

JFK Portrait, 1967, Jamie Wyeth
In commemorating the birthdays of the forty-three Presidents of the United States, I've noticed they fall into two categories--those for whom I have to really dig to find good painted portraits, and those presidents who have become so iconic in the history of our nation that they have very many painted portraits. Choosing the best ones becomes a fairly daunting chore. Our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, falls into the latter group along with the likes of Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. That's not to imply any order of greatness, only that they, and a few others, have come to personify our image of the highest office in the land. Today, May 29th, 2016, marks Jack Kennedy's ninety-ninth birthday.
The official White House portraits of President and Mrs. Kennedy,
both by Aaron Shikler. Both date from around 1970.
Normally, when I lay out a posting which explores various artists' portraits of presidents, I place the official White House portrait at the top followed by that from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. This time I've placed at the top a portrait of John F. Kennedy which, from the moment I first saw it, I've always considered the best painting ever rendered of President Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy is said to have wept when she first saw it. Its painter, Jamie Wyeth; is the son of the famed Andrew Wyeth and heir to the long tradition of excellence associated with the Brandywine School. He was born in 1946, which makes him a year younger than myself. The portrait of President Kennedy was done in 1967, when the young Wyeth was a mere twenty-one years old. It marked Wyeth's first taste of fame. The official White House portraits of Jack and Jackie Kennedy (above) by the more widely-known artist, Aaron Shikler came later.

From traditional to Expressionist, no other president has inspired
so many widely varied portrait artists. 

When it came to highlighting the Kennedy portraits by other well-known artists in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, I was surprised to find not the usual one or two but a total of four by American artists as diverse as William Draper and Elaine de Kooning. The great thing about this grand total is that it allows a broad sampling of how such artists viewed the personality and character of their subject. It would seem that virtually every portrait artist alive now or then (myself included) has painted this president. My version, from 1972, may be seen at the bottom. Keep in mind, I've improved somewhat in the last forty-four years.

The Time magazine cover artist, Henry Koerner, painted the portrait on the right. Little is known about the Man's Magazine cover artist.
From the time he was a mere junior senator from Massachusetts, the heroism and charisma of John F. Kennedy has inspired artists, first in the form of magazine covers (above), and later, following his tragic death on November 22, 1963, in the form of everything from canvas paintings to bronze sculpture, and any number of less appropriate media. Some artists, such as Norman Rockwell, (below) have become part of the birth and growth of the modern-day "Camelot" legend.

The campaign poster at left says it all: "A TIME FOR GREATNESS."
Like the National Portrait Gallery works, those by lesser-known artists, as well as some who have become iconic figures themselves, offer a broad variety of painted images. Below we see the works of Ben Solowey, Ralph Wolfe, David Shannon, even a digital artist with the moniker, Dancin Artworks. Below those we find four JFK portraits by the famous Peter Max and two possibly by Andy Warhol (or an imitator). Notice, I placed my own ancient effort as far from that of Jamie Wyeth as possible.

Often the most interesting of all.
The Andy Warhol attribution is doubtful.
That of Peter Max is not.

JFK, 1972, Jim Lane


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