The Supreme Court's four female justices are joined together in a new portrait unveiled today at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. Famed portraitist Nelson Shanks, who painted the life-sized work, was on hand this morning as the press was given a first glimpse.
A seated Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seen standing behind her, look somber, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seated next to O'Connor, and Justice Elena Kagan, standing next to Sotomayor, have faint smiles. They are wearing their black robes, with differing neckwear that accurately reflects their preferences.
The four justices have not yet seen the portrait, but will tonight -- along with some of their colleagues -- at a private event at the gallery.
The setting for the portrait is a space at the court that does not actually exist -- a "pastiche," Shanks said, of the Natalie Rehnquist Dining Room in the court and one of the main floor conference rooms that looks out over the building's courtyard. As a result, the composition gives glimpses of the court's architecture as well as its opinion-writing mission, seen in legal tomes on the sofa where O'Connor and Ginsburg are seated, and a bookcase reflected in a mirror. Shanks said he drew on 17th-century Old Master Dutch group portraiture style, a "diversion" from the typical straight-row lineup style usually used in depictions of judges.
Shanks, 75, said it was "a bit of a challenge" to capture the justices' "different personalities and visages." Two other portraits by Shanks are on display at the museum -- one of former president Bill Clinton, the other of opera star Denyce Graves.
All four justices sat for the portrait for more than four hours last year, Shanks said, describing the sitting as "semi-controlled chaos," with the justices "talking and joking" amiably throughout.
The design for the painting was roughed out on a napkin more than two years ago, Shanks said. Art collectors Ian and Annette Cumming commissioned and own the work, which will be on display at the gallery for the next three years.
Museum director Kim Sajet said the portrait, which is prominently placed on the second floor, will be a "launching pad" for an educational program emphasizing the difference that women are making in American life. "Things are beginning to happen" for women, she said, and the painting will hopefully "spark a conversation among young people, particularly young women, about breaking barriers."