In preparation for the oil on canvas portrait of Richard (26” wide x 34” high), several preparatory studies were carried out; surviving are two of his face and one of his hand. In 1962, when the picture was painted, I was an enthusiast of the Spanish sixteenth-seventeenth century painter El Greco. Nightly I leafed through a precious Abrams publication to fix the imagery in my mind. Visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where El Greco portraits were on view, reinforced this admiration. Of course Richard’s portrait bears no connection to a specific El Greco, but it was the Spanish master’s sense of personhood that I was taken by as well as the severity of  encompassing black garments. The red band is present for formal reasons but it is referential to blood and flesh hidden beneath the voluminous garment. Other painters who consciously affected my conception and execution are the German Weimar artist Max Beckmann, particularly for flesh color, facture and even, to some extent, the illumination of the face, and Vincent van Gogh for the agitated background that animates the timeless fixity of the figure. In 1962 there were few contemporary artists to turn to for inspiration insofar as portraiture was concerned. Thus I chose from wildly different painters, ones who spoke to me, across  time and place and who differed so radically. My vision was romantic, but few who look(ed) at the picture recognize(d) this sentiment. What happened to Richard’s left hand? I am uncertain whether I planned to include it, but now, after all these years I would like to “finish” what I started. That will be state 3. I may also clarify the garment’s folds; having become an expert of sorts on Anthony van Dyck, I feel the impulse to define the drapery’s topography. But the face will remain unchanged, since this is a true record of what Susan [Rosen] Brignoli experienced in 1962. Proudly I signed the picture at the upper right in red “Brignoli 1962.”

As an art historian I cannot refrain from commenting on a debate about portrait attire that hit a high point in the beginning of the modern era. One side argued that a portrait should depict a sitter in “their time,” that is, in the style of the day; the opposing viewpoint wanted to cloth the person in  “timeless” garb. Richard has not been “classicized,” but he was extracted from 1962 and dressed in garb that speaks to the person, to his character as I knew it then.

For more on Richard’s life, see the obituary at http://www.acorn-online.com/news/exec/view.cgi/21/5095

 


Richard J. Brignoli 8