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Friday, June 1, 2012

John Howard Sanden

Very rarely do I cover current events in my daily writings here. This is, after all, Art Now and Then, not are Now and Now. Yesterday, however, one of the most outstanding portrait painters in America enjoyed a day he'll not soon forget. John Howard Sanden had not one but two of his portraits unveiled simultaneously during ceremonies in the White House. Capping a decades long career as an outstanding portrait painter, Sanden's portraits of President George W. Bush and former First Lady, Laura W. Bush will place him among the handful of truly exemplary portrait artists of the past two centuries.  Joining names like Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, Rembrandt Peale, G.P.A. Healy, John Singer Sargent, and Aaron Shikler, John Sanden's painted likenesses are more than a part of our national history, but have become personages in their own right, rising above mere depictions to become inspirations for presidents yet unborn.

President George, W. Bush, 2012, John Howard Sanden

The resemblence between father and son is unmistakeable. At President Bush's request, Sanden included a painting by western artist W.H.D. Koerner, A Charge to Keep, which hung in the Oval Office during Bush's presidency. Bush mention the inspiration provided by Koerner's work as he unveiled his own painted legacy. Bush 43 is likely to hang near the presidential portrait of his father by Herbert Abrams, which is more low-keyed and stark. Sanden's portrait of Mrs. Bush, though not likely to hang next to her husband's, is very much a companion piece, similar in size, color, and pose as she presides over the Green Room before David Martin's portrait of Benjamin Franklin. 

Laura W. Bush, 2012, John Howard Sanden 
John Howard Sanden was born in 1935, in Austin, Texas (not incidentally, the Bush's home state). Today he presides over a studio in New York's Carnegie hall South Tower. Sanden came to New York in 1969, leaving a career in the Midwest where he concentrated on biblical art. In New York, he found a position teaching portrait painting at the Art Students League. Later he founded The Portrait Institute where he taught his techniques and portrait philosophy to thousands in standing-room-only groups as large as 700. Sanden is the author of four books on portrait painting and has won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Portrait Society of America as well as the first John Singer Sargent Award from the American Society of Portrait Artists. Commissions have come from the rich and famous of all walks of life. His fees start at $50,000 and go as high as $75,000, which, in the case of the Bushes were covered by private donations to the White House Historical Society.

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