Portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr. – 1925 – February 26, 2008
Oil on Linen, life-sized. (b/w photograph of original painting).
William F. Buckley, Jr. died today at 82.
I painted a portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr from sittings, many years ago. The man was a phenomenal wit and intellect, used the English language exquisitely, and was a thoroughly charming and a towering human being.
I was in my twenties and had the cheek to write him and ask if I might paint his portrait. I said we were both questing for the truth.
His famous & phenomenal secretary, Frances Bronson, wrote back and said WFB asked three questions needing answers:
1. Might he read during sittings.
2. May he bring his cocker spaniel.
3. How much will it cost…IF he likes it.
We worked out the particulars and he came to my studio in Greenwich Village, New York for sittings.
He was very famous, doing radio, tv and publishing his magazine The National Review. Buckley was a beacon of conservative thought causing trouble, uproar, and having an enormous amount of fun. The author of over fifty books. He ran for mayor of New York once, and (expecting the outcome in advance) when asked what he’d do first if elected, said, he’d “demand a recount!” He debated everyone with equal intensity and mischief, and had a fabulous time with sailing around the world, writing essays and books filled with his astute observations of American politics. When he turned 50, he decided to learn the harpsichord and ended up giving public performances. At the same half century mark he started writing fiction novels, spy stories reflecting some early work of his own.
He was reviled and adored in equal measure, not a bad outcome for a life fully lived. Meeting him and painting his portrait has always been one of the highlights of my life. Totally gracious, charming, eloquent, brilliant man. I miss him already.
Regrettably, this is only photo I have of the finished portrait, and it’s black and white. The full version included him sitting in his chair, lap full of papers, a pencil in hand pressed against his cheek, his portable typewriter at his side, cluttered busy desk, and an office filled with books stacked on the floor and every surface.
Addendum: There are so many tributes now appearing about Willam F. Buckley’s life and wit, and this is typical, and so good, a comment made by Ronald Reagan in 1985: "Once when Bill was asked what job he wanted in the Administration of his friend the President, he replied in his typically retiring and deferential way: “Ventriloquist.”
More on my website, The Hawks Perch