Sunday, August 7, 2011

Aaron Shikler Portraits

The portrait of the Engelhard parrot Jacob by Aaron Shikler.
 Noted portrait artist Aaron Shikler, born 1922, was a personal friend of Charles and Jane Englehard who were profiled in my June 6, 2011, post here with some of the contents from their house Cragwood featured in my June 21, 2011, post here.  The portrait of Sister Parish with her dog Yummy in the previous post of The Devoted Classicist reminded me of the portrait I admired so much of the Engelhard's parrot, Jacob.  While Jacob's portrait was included in the sale of the contents of Cragwood, the Shikler portrait of Mrs. Engelhard was not.  Beginning with a 1959 breakthrough commission, Jane Engelhard became a major patron of Shikler, eventually commissioning the Lady Bird portrait, one of Mike Mansfield for the U.S. Senate, and another of the Duchess of Windsor, among others.

Portrait of Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Jr. by Aaron Shikler.
 Aaron Shikler studied at The Barnes Foundation in Marion, Pennsylvania and at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia with a stint in Europe between serving as a map-maker during WWII.  Returning to New York in 1949, he worked in the studio of Hans Hoffman, the Abstract Expressionist.

Portrait of John Kennedy, Jr., by Aaron Shikler.
Whether the recommendation came through her friend Jane Engelhard is unknown, but Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned the artist to do a portrait of young Caroline and John Kennedy in 1968, followed by others of Mrs. Kennedy alone and the three together.

Portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy by Aaron Shikler.
 Appreciating his artistic style and ability to please the client, Mrs. Kennedy asked Shikler to paint her official White House portrait, perhaps the most memorable of all the First Lady portraits.

Preliminary study for official White House portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy by Aaron Shikler.

A view of the White House Vermeil Room during the Reagan Administration showing the Aaron Shikler portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy above the settee to the left.
Photo from DREAM HOUSE, THE WHITE HOUSE AS AN AMERICAN HOME by Ulysses Grant Dietz and Sam Waters, Acanthus Press, 2009.
Shikler also painted the White House portrait of President John F. Kennedy, with Mrs. Kennedy's guidance.  She stipulated that there were to be no bags under his eyes and no penetrating gaze.

A 1962 sketch of President John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler from the Engelhard collection at Cragwood.
After producing a number of sketches for consideration, Mrs. Kennedy chose the pose with folded arms and lowered head that was adapted from a photo of Ted Kennedy in a similar stance at JFK's grave.  While it was controversial as some said the unconventional pose was not appropriate for the White House setting, many have found the portrait moving.

The official White House portrait of President John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler.
 Other White House portraits for President Lyndon B. Johnson, President Ronald Reagan, and First Lady Nancy Reagan followed.  A 1981 article in People magazine stated his then-current fee started at $25,000 for a head and shoulder portrait and $35,000 for for a full figure portrait.  A portrait of Jordan's Queen Noor was $140,000, however.   He no longer allowed input from the sitter, the story said, after an experience with the subject feeling the image was not flattering enough.

Thanks go to P. Gaye Tapp at the wonderful blog Little Augury for directing me to the blog Privilege.  Shikler also painted a portrait of the blog author Lisa, her brother, and her sister which can be seen here.

The display of portraits seems to have fallen out of favor these days in residential decoration, but do you not think there is a place for good portraits in stylish interior design?

The 2009 book Dream House, The White House as an American Home is available for purchase at a discount from the published price and the option of free shipping through The Devoted Classicist Library by clicking here.


  1. Magnificent post John. Shinkler's art captures a mood and a time unlike no other. Kennedy's portrait is one of my favorites & I like the fact that it was nontraditional. Good for Jackie for choosing what she felt best represented her husband. I very much enjoyed this post.

    Have a good Sunday John,

  2. I know that is a rhetorical question at the end! I happen to know that you own several of the most gorgeous portraits that you have beautifully incorporated into a stylish interior!

  3. Deborah, Shikler typically worked from several sittings but also from a series of photos over a period, usually having more than one portrait in progress at a given time. But he was a good choice for the artist of the posthumous presidential portrait, I think.

  4. C.A.W., you busted me! I think manufactured decoration -- the interiors so often featured in today's magazines where all the furnishings are bought for the project with nothing reused from the client's past -- can be difficult to successfully incorporate a portrait. But I am tired of those interiors without personality anyway.

  5. Beautiful portraits you feature. I am very fond of the parrot! And I remember sitting for the portrait, very vividly, although I was only 6, and Shikler not well known in 1962.

  6. Lisa, I think it is important that children's portrait are not too sacarine. Your family portrait was very successful in that in particular.

  7. Surely any room would benefit from a good pet portrait!

  8. A very talanted painter, I especially like the parrot. I sometimes wish I could paint and draw better than I do.

    You recently mentioned something about doing a post about a mansion, when will it be up? Looking forward to it!

  9. BK, surely any room would benefit from a pet!

    Thanks for your comments, M.L.H.B. I have a backlog of subjects yet to be written in the Notable Homes series.

  10. I was familiar with both Kennedy White House portraits. Famous really. But I never realized they were by the same artist. Your blog is so educational!

  11. Thanks, Mathew. My motto is "The more you know, the more you appreciate."

  12. I had the great fortune of growing up down the road from Cragwood. The area was surrounded by miles of bridle paths, and as a young girl on a horse I was welcomed onto property that would otherwise have been off-limits. I would frequently see members of the Engelhard family out walking - it was all very familiar. I have so many wonderful memories of that time but one really stands out. I will never forget my brother arriving at their doorstep to sell Boy Scout bags of charcoal and Mrs. Englehard herself enthusiastically handling the purchase.

  13. Debra, thank you for sharing that story. I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid there aren't many like Mrs. Engelhard left any longer.

  14. Shikler...a Man of discerning taste indeed. A few years ago, I spoke with him regarding a painting we own... FUNERAL IN BROOKLYN. This poignant scene of grieving women huddled in black with umbrellas with the skyline of 1954 Manhatten in the distance was a personal scene for him it was his family mourning an Uncle. I purchased this from the late Jean Howard. A moving and beautifully rendered oil, it was the study for a larger version once owned by the Whitney's which burned long ago in a house fire.

    Sargent and Shikler...two great American painters, but WE must not forget the younger genius, Andrew Lattimore. His hand is a combination therefore taking him into the realm of the American Master. Years ago, I sought him out for a 40th B-day gift for my husband. We met at the Sherry-Netherland in our suite and he photographed me...a Sanguine portrait on Ecru paper was what i wished for...and too this day I will always cherish it as does my dear Husband.

  15. Swan, thanks for sharing your story.

  16. Great post...his work so captured another side of Madame Kennedy...I have always loved that portrait of her.

  17. If you will check the 2005 Auction Catalog of the final Kennedy Family Auction, you will find there were a pair of uniquely posed or styled Kennedy/Onassis portrait paintings by Shikler offered for sale. One showed Mrs Onassis and her children peeking from the opening of a wonderful treehouse (fashioned from dried natural boughs and snug up in some mighty tree's arms!); *The other was a mini-painting (table top size) of Jacqueline Onassis aboard a personal-sized boat sporting a bright red sail. (It was displayed on a tiny gold holder with a gemstone topping it!) This piece had been commissioned by JBK-O as a birthday gift for Ari Onassis.

    As to the Official White House Portrait of JFK, it may have been inspired by a photo of The President's brother Teddy however it most assuredly was finally created from a different photo. There is a B&W picture of JFK - amongst a group setting of other gentlemen with his back to a wall or hearth - his pose / apparel / position of the head are all identical to the details of the final painting. So, I am of the opinion the true inspiration was from John Kennedy's own photographic image, not his youngest brother.

    **A group painting of Mrs. Onassis and her children (seated on or near a couch in the family's NYC apt) was sold at Sotheby's Auction in 2005. The lady who bought the hauntingly beautiful Shikler piece was so nervous, she had brought along a gentleman to do the actual bidding for her. After the sale, she seemed in awe of her new purchase and was not only happy but almost emotional. (It was a very touching moment.)

    There was also (in 2005) a very serious mix-up in the bids at Sotheby's regarding (Kennedy/Onassis owned) vintage snapshots of the Shikler artwork that were being offered for sale. The misunderstood / questioned bids literally stopped the highly publicised auction for a serious period of time! (This happened on the auction's final day.) One bidder in the dispute was eventually appeased when the auction house offered her the identical-amount-she-had-last-bid (on the auction-lot in question); This amounted to multiple thousands of dollars! She then used those monies to make other auction purchases - as there were several Shikler photographs - once the sale had resumed. (The mix-up proved a very profitible day for the former-Joplin, Missouri lady!)

    *The gentleman who purchased the tiny sailing portrait (of JBK-O), bought the lot 'sight-unseen' during the last Kennedy family auction. He had placed a bid ahead of time and was tardy for the auction. After it had come 'off the auction block,' the small painting was returned to Sotheby Auction's own tall, all-glass display case till the new owner appeared! The gentleman was very excited to finally witness the artwork.

    ** Mrs. Onassis told the artist Shickler she wanted him to record in oils her children as they looked just then -the year of the commission. She literally wished to REMEMBER. The artwork was intended to capture-on-canvas this particular period in her Motherhood and her offspring's lives.


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