A closer look at Pawlenty’s portrait

So former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s portrait was unveiled last night in a private ceremony, and starting today the portrait is available for public viewing at the Minnesota State Capitol. Let’s take a look, shall we?


Portrait of former Governor Tim Pawlenty, painted by Rossin

Image courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

You’ve got to admit, it’s a lovely portrait in the realist style, with clean crisp lines, a dignified pose, and a nice rendering of the state capitol in the background. There’s not much symbolism going on here, just a straightforward and confident “this is me” feel.

Pawlenty chose the painter Rossin to complete his portrait. Rossin is a Bulgarian-born painter based in Atlanta, Georgia and was the portrait artist of both President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush. At the time, Pawlenty was gearing up to run for president himself, and the selection of Rossin underscores Pawlenty’s desire to look like real presidential material.

Frankly I think Pawlenty’s portrait is actually more captivating than that of the Presidents Bush.

I’m a little confused by the lighting. If you look at the top of the capitol, it appears as though the sun is off to the right. However if you look at Pawlenty’s face, and the shadow it casts, it appears as though the light is coming from the above left (a traditional technique in still lifes). Still, a really lovely painting.

(And is it just me, or does Pawlenty have a little bit of a Martin Landau thing going on?)

Now, for context, let’s take a look at a couple of Pawlenty’s predecessors. First, former Governor Jesse Ventura:


Former Governor Jesse Ventura

painting by Stephen Cepello

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

This is, at first glance, a very different painting. First off, it’s much darker, even stormy. Ventura’s time in office saw the terrorist attacks of 9-11, so the darkness could be a reflection of that. Ventura also is looking off into the distance, leaning on a sculpture of Rodin’s “The Thinker” – implying he’s a deeply thoughtful, even philosophical person (Ventura often complained of being misunderstood, even hounded by what he called the “media jackals”).

Oh and then there’s the tie and the medals. Ventura is showing his deep-felt patriotism, his Navy Seal training, as well as his sometimes unorthodox fashion choices.

Now, let’s take a look at former Governor Arne Carlson:


Former Governor Arne Carlson

Painted by Stephen Gjertson

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

What does this portrait say to me? This guy is not planning on running for president, and he’s not feeling misunderstood, either. He’s relaxed, comfortable, and sporting his U of M letter jacket (he was a grad student there and is a huge fan of their sports teams).

Carlson chose Minneapolis native Stephen Gjertson to paint his portrait. Gjertson compensated for all the gray stone in the picture by adding a couple of colorful butterflies (who knows, maybe they were actually there?) which lend an even more care-free and friendly atmosphere to the portrait.

So what do you think of Pawlenty’s portrait? Or governor portraits in general? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

  • Helen P

    Governors portraits in general are interesting visual comments on the times and the person. I enjoy them from the historical context view. My favorite has always been the Carlson portrait because of the image of this really approachable, interesting person. As for the Pawlenty portrait specifically, the lighting issues create a feeling of dis-continuity as if the person was standing in front of a “set”. It feels, in spite of the realism in the style, unauthentic somehow, as if the artist pulled in two photos and painted from those.

  • manuel

    I agree with the article that the portrait is well done, but it does not capture the Governor’s eye-sparkle. The Governor should have taken his wife’s adice and added some symbolism to make it more interesting.

  • Scott Wooldridge

    I believe Ventura’s signature campaign ad ended with him in a pose similar to “the Thinker”… the painting would seem to be making a reference to that. I think it adds a little humor to the dark painting .. and talk about lighting–the sky is black but Ventura is in brilliant sunlight.

  • Richard O

    Arnie wins my vote! At least it’s genuine.

  • Aconitum

    Perhaps there is some symbolism here, after all. Can it be coincidental that the building — behind him, in the past — might be lit from the right; but clearly what’s in front on him, in the future, is light from the Left?

  • http://linkert.name gml4

    Really? No symbols? Nothing to show his accomplishments (such as they were)? There goes another guy who will fade into history no one will remember or care about.

  • http://hizeph400.blogspot.com/ mulad

    I thought Ventura had explained the symbolism in his portrait fairly thoroughly when it was first displayed — If I remember right, the darkness really referred to all the political bickering that he had to fight from both the Republicans and Democrats, likely with some of the media’s hounding mixed in.