In my limited research of the contemporary world of portrait painting I’ve discovered a common thread. Many of the great modern day portrait painters consider John Singer Sargent to be the best of his day and maybe of all time.
John Singer Sargent lived from 1856-1925. He painted over 900 oil paintings, many of them quite large (in the grand manner). He focused on capturing the essence of the subject along with likeness.
Another commonality among the great modern portrait painters is that most of them have studied under someone of great renown or intensely studied the works of others. Sargent himself was greatly influenced by studying the portraits of the great Spanish painter Velazquez.
So who is the modern day “Sargent”? Who is the elites’ painter of choice when they wish to have their portrait painted? Who is the chosen one to paint the President of the United States, a Supreme Court judge, a King or Queen, or a celebrity?
Well, in my opinion there are a number of them who could wear the mantle. One living portrait painter who stands out as one of the greats of our time would have to be Everett Raymond Kinstler. Born in 1926, he is now 90 and still painting!
Jen and I were touring the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington DC one day a number of years ago when we saw our first Kinstler painting. It stopped me in my tracks. It was a grand painting, 44” by 56”, of the writer Thomas Wolfe. The background was white and Wolfe was dressed in a white suit, yet the painting popped and had vibrant brushwork. Like Sargent, you could almost feel the material in the clothing.
Kinstler has painted seven Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and W. Bush. He’s painted several First Ladies, and countless celebrities. I love his painting of John Wayne and think it’s the best one I’ve seen of the Duke.
Celebrities like Tony Bennett and Katharine Hepburn have loved his work and posed for him numerous times.
Kinstler grew up admiring the famous illustrators of his day and started out his art career, after attending art school at the Arts Student League in NY, working as an illustrator for magazines, books, and comic books. He gradually worked his way into portraiture once illustrations started being replaced by photography. He was heavily influenced and mentored by the illustrator James Montgomery Flagg, studying under him for years.
Kinstler is a strong believer in painting from life and believes likeness is secondary to capturing ones spirit or character at that particular moment in time. Placing that person on canvas the way they should be remembered in history is all-important to him.
I’ve watched every interview and YouTube video I could find on him. I’ve included one video below that I think you might find interesting. He’s led a fascinating life, he is a wonderful storyteller, and his paintings are expressive and exceptional.
There are so many styles of portraiture with every artist having their own flare that it’s somewhat hard to say definitively who is the “Sargent” of our time, but I think you will all agree that Everett Raymond Kinstler should be in the running.
In future blogs I will follow up with several other candidates for the title of the greatest modern day portrait painter.
I myself am well into a commissioned portrait and enjoying the challenge very much. Although I haven’t studied portraiture at the Arts Student League or under a master, I feel I can learn a tremendous amount by studying the works of the greats. That’s how I discovered the work of Everett Raymond Kinstler.
My very first art class in college was Portraiture in Oil, and that’s when I became infatuated with painting. Years of drawing in pencil quickly went by the wayside.
So now many years later, when I do get the opportunity to work on a portrait, that same sense of excitement over trying to capture a likeness comes over me and work becomes fun!
Thanks as always for reading my journal and for following my art! It’s most appreciated!!!