A life-sized painting of the Supreme Court’s four female justices is due to be unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. on October 28 in an invitation-only ceremony that the entire court is expected to attend.
Renowned portraitist Nelson Shanks painted the work last year under commission from the gallery. His past subjects have included Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, Pope John Paul II and Luciano Pavarotti.
“It was a great opportunity to do a group portrait of four different personalities,” said Shanks in a phone interview. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan participated in two sittings, one of which lasted more than four hours, Shanks said. With the frame, which was built this year, Shanks said the painting is "huge," measuring roughly 10 feet tall.
Shanks said he strived to capture the four justices’ unique characteristics, with O’Connor and Ginsburg seated on a blue damask sofa, and newcomers Sotomayor and Kagan standing behind them. Shanks introduced architectural features of the court into the work by including a window that looks into the building's courtyard, and a mirror that reflects a bookcase filled with legal tomes.
The justices were in their black robes, but Shanks nonetheless was able to highlight their different preferences for neckwear. O’Connor wore a lengthy white lace jabot, while Ginsburg’s was beaded. As is their custom, Sotomayor and Kagan wore only “minimal white collars,” Shanks said. “The longer they are there, I guess the more liberty they take with their decorations.”
The justices were patient during the sittings, Shanks said, “chit-chatting quite a bit” and enjoying each other’s company. He said he noticed the other three female justices were quite deferential to O’Connor, the first of the four to join the court, in 1981.