The following paragraph is a preview of a new essay that I intend to have published in the not too distant future. This one is about drawing: the most essential element in most works of visual art. However, drawing is typically undervalued aesthetically and monetarily, often thought of as the ‘poor cousin’ of painting. This essay, which includes a very brief history of drawing from renaissance to the present, gives a sense of the multiple dimensions of drawings and the drawing experience. Here is an excerpt from that essay:
“Though drawing attained a new appreciation in the eighteenth century it continued, throughout those times and to this day, to be essentially a tool for study. As with avid naturalists, drawers are typically absorbed with the intricate nuances found through their studies. It is love of life from the root up. It is a poetic expression that comes from a sense that the world is too vast to ever be known in total, and a belief that its heart can best be known while we are on our knees studying the individual, the lichen at the root of a tree, the incomparable grace of a model’s sinewy thigh, the feeling of a bird’s movements, or the compelling mystery of a boney but softly animated human face. Drawing then is very different from painting, which is often thought of as the pinnacle of visual art and generally takes in a whole scene, giving a sense of completeness or of a grand scheme.”
Look for the article in the upcoming issue of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine.
In 2018 Josh Comninellis, video production director of the American Angus Association, asked me to participate in a video that he and his team (Max Stewart and Ali Luety) were making about five people who were recognized as being very important, in a variety of ways, to the development of the Angus cattle breed. In character and accomplishments the five people differed in very significant ways, but there was a common thread in that each had been honored by having a portrait of themselves included in the prestigious Saddle and Sirloin Club headquartered in Louisville, KY. My connection to the five was that I was the artist commissioned to paint all of these portraits.
As part of the presentation I was to be interviewed to give my perceptions of these special livestock leaders, having come to know them in the process of painting their portraits. However as the project evolved my words played a major part in the narration and my involvement as the portraitist was used as the connecting link in telling their stories.
Even if you have never been curious about the livestock industry, you may find this video interesting simply because of the uniqueness of each personality and the experiences, passion and approaches each person profiled brought to their profession. As an artist I find it essential to understand those dimensions in order to create a satisfying portrait. So the video may also give you some insight into my thinking in approaching a portrait commission — the individual characters of the subjects, their lives, their achievements and the things that have motivated them are always my basis and inspiration.
The Story Behind Marshall Field’s Portraits, Then and Now
The portrait was painted by the then famous portraitist Leon Bonnat (1833 – 1922), a French artist who studied in Spain and combined the methods and aesthetics of both the French and Spanish traditions. The portrait is especially interesting because it was left in a semi-finished stage clearly showing Bonnat’s painting process. While the artist was working on the portrait the sitter died tragically and the painting was never finished. The portrait was commissioned by Marshall Field I who was known as the mercantile king of Chicago, starting the Marshall Field Company that was the most prominent department store in the Midwest for over a century and a half.
Recently Marshall Field V decided the portrait, even in it’s unfinished state, should be hung with all the other Marshall Fields through the generations. He added a portrait of himself (see my portrait of him below—also included in the article).
I am sincerely gratified that my painting is in Mr. Field’s collection because of his reputation as an extremely knowledgeable connoisseur of classic American painting.
In addition to portraying cardinals, governors, prominent lawyers and doctors, and philanthropists, over the years Richard Halstead has created 23 paintings of the leaders of the American livestock industry. With Halstead paintings in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, state capitols and universities, Richard’s paintings are also part of an unusual special collection. Legendary breeders of beef cattle in Scotland in the late 18th century, outstanding early and modern educators in animal husbandry, and current leaders in livestock production have been honored by their induction into the collection of portraits of the nationwide Saddle & Sirloin Club.
Believed to be the world’s largest portrait gallery commemorating a single industry, the portrait collection was established at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards in 1903 and is a somewhat unexpected example of the tradition of portrait painting providing a compelling visual component of the history of livestock development, especially in the Americas.
Each year a leader who has made a major contribution to the industry is selected for this award. In 2017 Angus beef cattle leader Tom Burke was honored and Richard completed his portrait for its unveiling in conjunction with the North American International Livestock Exhibition in Louisville, KY, in November 2017.
The Kentucky Exposition Center houses the entire collection and some of the most recent portraits by Richard are on permanent display.