A new life-sized portrait of the Supreme Court's four female justices by famed artist Nelson Shanks was unveiled yesterday at the National Portrait Gallery.
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 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.
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.