American Art

Aaron Shikler: America's Court Painter

Aaron Abraham Shikler

NEW YORK, NY -- Aaron Shikler was born in Brooklyn in 1922 and lived in New York for most of his life. He came of age in the city at a time when New York was becoming the center of the art world. And though the prevailing style of his time and of his peers turned towards abstraction, he remained devoted to representational art.

After attending the High School of Music and Art in New York he enrolled at the Tyler School of the Arts at Temple University. His studies at Temple were interrupted by the war, and in 1943 he was drafted into the Army Air Corps in Europe, where he served as a mapmaker. When his service in the war was completed Shikler returned to Temple to finish his studies, after which he moved back to New York and trained under Hans Hofmann for three years at his eponymous school. Shikler was close friends with David Levine, with whom he shared an educational history and a studio. In 1958 the two formed the Painting Group, a loose collective of artists that met weekly to paint from live models.

Shikler is best known for his work as a portraitist. His most recognizable image is the official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy. The painting depicts the president with his head bowed and his arms crossed, giving the impression of a man in deep thought. It is a somber work, reflecting the times in which it was created. The painting was done posthumously from photographs; Shikler said that its final pose was inspired by a photograph of Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the president’s grave site. Shikler also painted the official portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Nancy Reagan. He did portraits of Hillary Clinton, Ladybird Johnson, and countless other Washington notables. His painting of President-elect Ronald Regan was published on the cover of Time Magazine.

On September 17, 2020 Doyle will offer The Wedding Preparation from 1961. The work was done shortly after the artist visited Spain and the Prado. Reflecting on the painting many years later, Shikler said that he was inspired by the works of Velasquez and had hoped to create something as dramatic and grand as the Spanish master’s works. The Wedding Preparation does recall elements from Las Meninas in its composition, scale, and subject matter, though the theme is wholly Shickler’s own. The painting depicts a young bride being attended upon by her bridesmaids. She is surrounded by generations of women, suggesting that Shikler intended to depict the stages of a bride’s life.

Shikler’s affinity for Velazquez may have been born of more than an appreciation for the master’s craft. He may well have aspired to build a career as brilliant as that of Velazquez, who was the court painter of King Philip the IV of Spain. And indeed when The Washington Post published its obituary for the artist, the headline described him as the “court painter of American nobility.”

Important Paintings

A highlight of the Important Paintings auction on September 17, 2020 is The Wedding Preparation, 1961, from the Property of a Morristown, NJ Private Collection.

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