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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ronald Reagan Portraits

Portrait artist Everett Raymond Kinstler with Nancy and Ronald Regan at the unveiling of the official White House portrait of the former president in 1991.
Ronald Reagan Official White House
portrait, 1991,  Everett Raymond Kinstler
One-hundred and five years ago, our 40th President was born, February 6, 1911. Whether you agree with his political persuasion, Ronald Wilson Reagan stands as one of the most beloved presidents of the 20th-century. His "aw, shucks" demeanor, his patented crooked smile, his jet black pompadour, his blue jeans and cowboy regalia, even his "I'm paying for this microphone" anger have endeared him to Republicans of all stripes and other Americans covering a broad spectrum of political beliefs. Democrats have their John F. Kennedy, Republicans have their Ronald W. Reagan. They were alike in many ways, perhaps even more alike than they were different. Both had (and have) a cult-like following readily willing to forgive their numerous shortcomings and praise the many charismatic gifts that made them two of the most likable men to ever hold the office of the presidency. They both had very attractive wives too. Their wives even liked the same portrait artist (bottom).

Ronald Reagan, 1968, Henry Casselli, National Portrait Gallery
A life-size Reagan by James
Michael Mahler stands on a
street corner in Rapid City, SD.
The Reagan portrait destined for Washington's National Portrait Gallery (above) is based on some thirty studies that artist Henry Casselli made of Reagan over four days at the White House in late 1988. When Reagan saw it, he exclaimed, “Yep! That’s the old buckaroo.” In many ways, Casselli's NPG portrait is more typical of the vast majority of White House presidential images than the Kinstler portrait (top). That is to say it is dark, static, formal, and statuesque--the President, despite his warm, ever-present smile, seems like a statue. Speaking of statues, there are far more unexpected bronze figures of Ronald Reagan in cities around the world than any other recent American President. Some, unlike his main street sculpture in Rapid City, South Dakota (right) are as much as twice life size. London, Warsaw, Budapest, and of course, Washington, D.C. all have such works. On the other hand, the portrait bust (below) is less than a foot tall. In general, few of the bronze portraits bear as strong a likeness to the former president than do most of the painted portraits.

This version of Reagan by sculptor, Don Winton, is about a foot tall.
As is the case with most recent presidents, especially the more popular ones, there are a vast number of unofficial portraits of Ronald Reagan. A few are even on a par with the official portraits, though most are in the fair-middling range (below).

The face of Ronald Reagan has a lot of character, not to mention individually
distinct characteristics. Some artists see them and capture them very well..
Others seem unable to do either.
Nancy and Jackie shared the same refined tastes in portrait artists.

Portrait of Ronald Reagan, Igor Lukyanov
I hope Nancy Reagan has a sense of humor.


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