Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Richard Nixon Portraits

Official White House Portrait of Richard M. Nixon, 1984,  James Antony Willis
The month of January boasts four presidential birthdays. A couple days ago we looked at the portraits of our thirteenth president, Millard Fillmore, one of the most inconsequential presidents in our history. Today we will examine the portraits of one of the most consequential presidents who ever walked the halls of the White House, our thirty-seventh President, Richard Millhouse Nixon. He was born on this date in 1913. This would have been his 103 birthday. His official White House portrait (above), painted in in 1984, is by James Anthony Willis, who also painted the White House portrait of President Dwight Eisenhower.

Nixon at his best, as portrayed by Norman Rockwell.
It's unlikely any portrait artist ever came to know Richard Nixon so well as Norman Rockwell, who, over a span of twenty years, painted four portraits of him (above, one of which includes the First Lady, Pat, Nixon). Beginning in 1952 when Nixon was chosen by Eisenhower to be his running mate, up through Nixon's reelection to a second term as President in 1972, Rockwell seems to have been Nixon's favorite artist, one who could capture the essence as well as the look of his portrait subject. Also, Rockwell was working for the conservative, Saturday Evening Post over that period, a weekly periodical Nixon could little afford to ignore. Besides that, Rockwell was not above flattering his subjects both in person and on canvas. The horizontal portrait (top-right) Rockwell, admitted later was especially so. The painting is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

The Halsman image (left) was the official White House color photo of President Nixon.
Richard Nixon, Everett Raymond Kinstler
As with all modern-day presidents, photos far outnumber painted portraits, and sometimes, when seen digitally, they are hard to differentiate. Once outstanding portrait photos become part of the public domain, the name of the artist/photographer often becomes separated from their portrait images, especially in dealing with public figures such as a president. That was the case with Phillipe Halsman even though his signature is plainly visible in the lower right corner of the image (above-left). Digitalization made the signature difficult to decipher. Only by enlarging a high-resolution version of the portrait was I able to ascertain the artist and realize he was a famous photographer, rather than a painter. Thus, the image in question is, in fact, a photo, not a painted portrait. In any case, it is one of the better portrayals of a man not naturally photogenic. I would consider it on a par with the work of Jay Meuser (above, right) as well as that of the frequent president painter, Everett Raymond Kinstler (left).

In the tradition of European history painting the Hungarian-American artist,
Ferenc Daday depicts then Vice-President Nixon as the heroic savior of his people.
Without doubt, the strangest portrait of Richard Nixon, hung (until recently) in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California (his birthplace). In 1956, Eisenhower sent Vice-President Nixon on a fact-finding tour of Europe. He made an unscheduled late-night visit with refugees of the Hungarian Revolt at the Austrian border town of Andau. This very large painting of Nixon is by the Hungarian-American artist, Ferenc Daday. The painting shows a heroic Nixon in a white trench coat under a turbulent sky as the refugees plead with him for relief. The whole effort comes across as kitsch--a wild satire of the great history paintings from the past, populated with suffering masses, a man on crutches, another with a Hungarian flag unfurled in the wind. There's something strangely surreal about seeing Nixon painted in a Socialist-Realist style.

First Lady, Pat Nixon, 1977, Henriette Wyeth Hurd,
official White House portrait.

Painting Nixon.


No comments:

Post a Comment