James Whitney Fosburgh (1910-1978) was
an American painter and lecturer on art perhaps most famous for his
portrait of US President, John F. Kennedy, which is featured in full
colour on the cover of the 5th November 1965 edition of Life magazine,
to accompany the memorial essay on the President entitled “A Thousand
Days”. Fosburgh was trained at Yale School of Fine Art, where
he received his B.A. in 1933 and M.A. in 1935, and was an artist very
much at the centre of things in pre- and post-war American society.
Although homosexual, he was married to the socialite Mary "Minnie"
Cushing, whose first husband had been Vincent Astor.
For his first major one-man show, Time magazine
featured the following review: “Ever since the "Ashcan"
painters of the early 1900s went looking for Beauty in alleys and
gutters, U.S. artists have prided themselves on smoking the lady out
of the most unexpected hiding places. Last week in a Manhattan gallery,
Painter James Fosburgh smoked her out again. He had discovered her
in a dirty clothes hamper, a rumpled pillow, a tavern jukebox. "Anything
can be beautiful if you bother to see its beauty," says Fosburgh.
"Even a hamper can be a vision of the world." He makes a
handsome still life from a pair of discarded work gloves or a coffee
cup, a romantic landscape from the bleak hangars and dingy flats of
La Guardia Airport seen across turgid Flushing Bay.
Fosburgh is a late starter: he is having his
first one-man show at 41. After musing through galleries and lecturing
for four years at Manhattan's Frick Museum on everything from Chinese
ceramics to Boucher, he finally decided to turn painter. Wartime service
as an Army glider pilot held him up for five years. Then he spent
another year experimenting with blobs and squiggles: "I didn't
know what I was doing, and finally I decided I wasn't going to find
out, so I chucked the whole lot into the fireplace."
He decided to model himself on Rembrandt, Goya,
Chardin and U.S. Painter Thomas Eakins ("one of the greatest
portraitists of all time"): "It was a matter of looking
and looking and then working and working." The small public that
buys pictures approved the results: his Manhattan show was a near
sell-out” (Time magazine, New York, 28th April 1952).
When the President’s wife, Jacqueline
Kennedy, began a project to renovate the White House in1961, she found,
as she wrote, a "crying need for some good American pictures"
as there was "really nothing but late nineteenth century Presidents
in black." She called on Fosburgh to serve as the chairman of
the committee to select American pictures for the executive mansion,
writing to him, "It is my greatest hope to acquire permanently
for the White House all the finest from this country's past. I think
it should have pictures by Stuart, Trumbull, Peale, Hicks, Audubon,
Sargent, Whistler, Homer, Eakins, Currier & Ives (bedrooms) Mary
Cassatt, Remington - and so many others that I am sure you will be
able to think of - All the most important periods should be represented
- except the really modern ones - as it is a period house - or will
be - but we can think of some solution to that." Fosburgh himself
said of his role in this endeavour: "The White House is the setting
in which the Presidency of the United States is presented to the world
and must be a reflection of the best in American history and art."
During his lifetime, Fosbburgh had one-man
shows at the Kennedy Galleries in New York, amongst others.