532 – John F. Kennedy Portraits/Rockwell and Warhol

John F. Kennedy Portraits/Rockwell and Warhol

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Portrait of John F. Kennedy,1960.
Oil on canvas,
Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, November 5, 1960
From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum
©1960 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Black Kennedy, from the portfolio “Flash Nov. 22, 1963”, 1968
Screenprint on paper
Collection of RISD Museum; Gift of Alyce and Michael Burke 80.005.1

Audio commentary by Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator of Norman Rockwell Museum and
Jesse Kowalski, Curator of Exhibitions of Norman Rockwell Museum

Speaker 1: In the exhibition there are actually two portraits of another very famous individual, President John F Kennedy. There’s one created by Norman Rockwell, a very kind of a dignified pose. And there’s by Andy Warhol, which is also very impactful but in a very different way. I wonder, Jesse, if you could say a little bit about how Warhol came to create an image of John Kennedy?

Speaker 2: Sure, well his series, the Kennedy image is from the series Flash, which Warhol produced in 1968. The Kennedy assassination had such a large impact on America that it really struck a nerve with several artists, and Warhol was among them. So the Flash portfolio really relays the instances that happened just prior to the assassination, during the assassination, and the events following the assassination. So the Flash image that’s included here, one of President Kennedy on television. It’s produced in a stark black and pink image, and the image was produced along with the actual teletypes that were released by the news services during the events of the assassination to put it in context. And the portrait is hung here with one of the Texas School Book Depository, that Lee Harvey Oswald was standing in when he shot the President. So this was kind of Warhol’s chance to look back at President Kennedy and the events that happened on that day.

Speaker 1: Rockwell’s portrait of Kennedy was done at a different time in his career. It was a time at which he was a candidate for president in 1960. And Rockwell described his thinking on the piece, he wanted to create a very dignified portrayal of Kennedy, but Kennedy was also the youngest candidate that we had ever had, he was just 43 years old. So he didn’t want to make the portrait appear too youthful. To do the portrait he actually visited Kennedy at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. When he got there Kennedy was still in his pajamas, and he kind of waved out the window to tell Rockwell he would be right down. And Rockwell came in, they did a photo session, and after the session was over they took a walk down to the water. And reportedly had a nice, relaxed, conversation overlooking the bay. And in conversation they both decided that perhaps it would be a good idea to try the photo session again. Because now Kennedy was feeling much more relaxed. So they went back into the house and re-shot Kennedy’s portrait.

And the portrayal that he wound up with I think achieved his goals, to create a portrait of a young candidate, but as someone who appears very competent and confidant. Someone who is presidential as well.