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The Painter Of The Kennedys

May 2024
1min read

In 1968 the New York artist Aaron Shikler received a call from Jacqueline Kennedy’s secretary commissioning him to do portraits of her children. Mrs. Kennedy had admired portraits Shikler had done of her nieces and nephew—the Lawford children—and felt that Caroline and John, Jr., then ten and seven, were both at an age she wanted to remember. In the course of that assignment, Shikler began sketching Mrs. Kennedy as well (opposite), and she asked him to do the official White House portraits of herself and the late President. Reflecting on the difference between a photographic and a painted portrait, Shikler recently observed: “Photography is momentary. Portraiture is an ongoing, evolving thing. The sessions are by nature longer with a painter, the depth of insight greater.” Shikler, who works from photographs only in the case of posthumous portraits, formed an idea of the image he wanted for his portrait of President Kennedy and then selected from the mass of available photographs the ones that best captured that idea.

Painting public figures has become a specialty for Shikler: recently he has done Lady Bird Johnson for the Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, and Ronald Reagan for a Time cover. When it all goes well, says Shikler, “there is a magic that happens between a painter and his sitter that becomes a moment in history.”

—J.C.

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