Oil Painting: Garth Herrick Portrait Demo: Copying a Notable Portrait

Herrick oil portrait demoThe Historical Society of the United States District Court has commissioned Herrick to paint a copy of an original Gilbert Stuart portrait for their collection.


Another diversion—I'm in the process of copying an original Gilbert Stuart portrait of an 18th century Philadelphian, an early federal judge named the Honorable William Lewis. He served just one year—1791—then he went back into private practice so he could make a better living.

The Historical Society of the United States District Court has commissioned this copy for their collection.  They directed me to another copy of the original, painted in the 1960s, as a reference. It is indeed a fine copy, but I desired to see the original if at all possible.  After considerable sleuthing, and through a string of private contacts, the original was located, and its owner was delighted about the additional copy commission.  I was allowed to study the original for one hour one morning to make several digital reference photographs, take measurements, and very importantly, do a quick oil study sketch to basically match up some colors and values.  I would be lost without that sketch.

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The flesh tints are rather warm and ruddy in the original, and the light is keyed in the typically darker 18th-century mode to accommodate richer colors from an earth palette.  I decided to use the same select colors of paint as would have been available to Gilbert Stuart, though I am not claiming to use the same actual palette as he did. The reason for using historic pigments is to more easily mimic the color effects and paint handling seen in the original portrait. Actually I am finding it a challenge to adapt to a thick flake white, and to really load the thickness of the white so it will maintain opacity over the centuries.  I have also used real vermilion for the genuine look of the reds. There is still much more to do!

I have included the original painting, my initial oil sketch for the underpainting, the progress thus far, and the portrait and the color study in front of the ongoing children's portrait—presented together to provide a sense of scale.

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About the Artist
Garth Herrick was a semifinalist in the Smithsonian Institution’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and was awarded a certificate of excellence by the Portrait Society of America at their 2006 International Portrait Competition. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he received the William Emlen Cresson Memorial Traveling Scholarship, the Stewardson Prize, and the Thouron Prize. Herrick’s commissions include portraits of eight notable federal judges, a governor, a mayor and numerous cultural, educational, and business leaders. His work hangs in a number of public, corporate, and private collections. View his work at www.garthherrick.com.

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