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An article in the New York Times last month detailed the rise of high-society portraiture in Manhattan, which got District portrait artist Patricia Kirk to thinking: If it’s big in New York, people will want it here, too. What with the strong economy, even stronger currents of narcissism, and the popularity of the portrait shows of John Singer Sargent and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres at the National Gallery of Art, it looks as if portraiture is posed to be in vogue again.
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Kirk wants to bring the lust for the bust to Washington. Figuring four brushes were better than one, the artist rustled up three portraitist friends—each as well-manicured as the folks they paint—to meet for informal critiques and networking, which Kirk hopes will ignite Washington’s portrait boom. All four artists have already built solid portfolios doing commissions with sitters they met through social contacts or word-of-mouth. They plan to gain strength—and publicity—in numbers.
“It’s hard to make a living as an artist,” says painter Shannon Lewis, by way of explaining her involvement in the group. “It helps to have your iron in as many fires as possible.”
To judge from their high-end receipts and burgeoning international client roster, the foursome doesn’t seem cash-poor. Ann Hartquist, whose work commands from $1,500 for a portrait head to $10,000 for full-length likeness, leaves for London this week to begin work on two paintings of tenor Jose Carreras that will be auctioned off next spring at a Carnegie Hall benefit. Mary Bagwell, her portfolio thick with pictures of well-groomed children and occasional international financiers, will fly to London later this month to work on a trio of portrait commissions.
At a recent morning get-together, the four artists were still trying to decide on the group’s name. They had just learned that their provisional name, the Portrait Group, was already taken. “What about ‘the Portrait Firm’?” Kirk asks the group.
“I like ‘Portraits Limited,’” suggests Bagwell.
“I don’t care,” says Lewis. “As long as it’s not ‘Society Portraits.’”—Jessica Dawson