Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Herbert E. Abrams

An honor few artists attain, a portrait in the White House--Herbert Abrams' portrait of
President Jimmy Carter in the central hallway.

Today I'm starting a series on "artists you've never heard of...but should have." This won't be an every day encounter (even I could not stomach weeks and weeks of little-known artists). However, it may be an endless series. There certainly are plenty of artists who fit into this category. The key element in this exploration is the last three words, "...but should have." Over the years, nothing has given me more pleasure than to stumble upon excellent painters and other artist whom I've never heard of before, then to expose them and their work, hoping to lift them somewhat to the level of fame they should rightfully occupy.
President Jimmy Carter, 1982,
Herbert E. Abrams
In starting this series, I've chosen Herbert E. Abrams. You've never heard of him, right? If you were a retiring President of the United States in the latter part of the 20th century, you would have. Herbert Abrams was a portrait painter, born in 1921. He died in 2003. He painted not one, but two White House presidential portraits, President Jimmy Carter (left) and President George, H.W. Bush. (He also painted Barbara Bush, below, right, though it was not an "official" White House portrait.) In addition, he landed several late-twentieth century legislative leaders including the venerable Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, and Senator Howard Baker (bottom). His list of notable models also includes General William Westmoreland, General Creighton Abrams, Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, former Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, and famed playwright Arthur Miller.
President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, 1994, Herbert Abrams
Abrams was a WW II veteran, pilot, and flight instructor who also has the distinction of having redesigned the U.S. Air Force flight insignia, adding the red, white, and blue side tabs to the previous white star on a circular blue field. After the war Abrams graduated from the Pratt Institute of Art and then studied at New York's Art Students' League. During the 1950s and 60s he struggled to make a living as an artist in New York City at a time when his art was anything but the popular, cutting edge Abstract Expressionism. He moonlighted teaching classes at the Army's West Point. It was though that connection he landed his first important commission, his portrait of Westmoreland done in 1961.

The generals--William Westmoreland and Creighton Abrams.
After the Westmoreland portrait there came army generals (including General Creighton Abrams--no relation), politicians, astronauts, and Johns Hopkins Medical personages, all building toward the Carter commission in 1982 and the Bushes in '94. Herbert Abrams joined a select group of presidential portrait painters including Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt Peale, P.A. Healy, John Singer Sargent, Aaron Shikler, and others you've never heard of...but should have. As with any profession, the old saying goes, "It's not what you know but who you know." A portrait artist might add to that, "...and who you paint."

The Senators--Robert C. Byrd and Howard Baker


No comments:

Post a Comment