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Artist Don Bachardy's unpopular portrait of Jerry Brown gets renewed attention

November 4, 2010 | 12:26 pm

Brown Now that Jerry Brown will be returning to the California governor's office after defeating Meg Whitman in Tuesday's election, pundits have begun to speculate on the details of his upcoming term. One item that isn't likely to be high on his list of priorities but that nonetheless has drawn renewed attention from Sacramento's KCRA television station is the fate of an  unpopular portrait of Brown by artist Don Bachardy.

The portrait was created to commemorate Brown's first tenure as governor of California, from 1975 to 1983. By some accounts, the painting drew criticism from various state politicians who didn't care for the artist's quasi-abstract visual interpretation of the then-governor.

A 1984 article in People magazine stated that the painting was so unpopular that it was banished to a third-floor landing in the state Capitol building, prompting the artist to remark: "If you saw some of the paintings hanging in the Capitol, you'd see why I am not at all insulted that my portrait of Brown is not among them."

Bachardy, long-associated with the Santa Monica art scene, is an accomplished portrait painter but he is perhaps best known for his long-term personal relationship with the writer Christopher Isherwood.

The artist's painting of Brown broke with a long-standing aesthetic tradition of gubernatorial portraits that favored realism over more adventurous styles.

In his book "Stars in My Eyes," Bachardy wrote that working with Brown on the portrait wasn't always easy due to the politician's "defensiveness" and seeming unease with the project. At one point, Bachardy recalled that "the sitting was an ordeal for both of us and made me wish that I could find a way to get my kicks without suffering such stress."

The official website of the California State Capitol Museum states that the practice of commissioning California's gubernatorial portraits began in 1879 and was made official in 1931.

Brown told KCRA that the Bachardy portrait looks "unfinished" to him and that it reflects "his unfinished work while in office."

-- David Ng


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Photo (top): Don Bachardy's portrait of Jerry Brown. Credit: California Department of General Services

Photo (bottom): Jerry Brown. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press