The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery announced the acquisition of a painting of renowned opera mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne by John Foote. Celebrated as one of the most remarkable voices of the twentieth century, Horne is donating the portrait to the museum. The portrait was installed in NPG’s “New Arrivals” gallery Thursday.
“I am grateful for the generosity of Ms. Horne—her portrait is a wonderful addition to our collection,” said Brandon Fortune, the Portrait Gallery’s curator of painting and sculpture. “This painting serves as a biography of Ms. Horne and allows us to tell the story of American opera in the twentieth century.”
Foote created the portrait in 1971 to honor Horne’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera the previous year as Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma, one of her signature bel canto roles. The artist began the work with drawings and photos made while the singer was rehearsing at the Metropolitan Opera; the artist then finished it in his studio in Florence and shipped it to Washington, D.C. When asked how long it took to complete the work, Foote responded, “forever.” The painting was originally displayed in “Portraits of the American Stage, 1771–1971,” an exhibition the Portrait Gallery organized in recognition of the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1971.
Born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1934, Horne became one of the most remarkable vocalists of the twentieth century. An international opera performer, teacher, and mentor, Horne’s five-decade career began at the age of four when she sang at a rally for President Franklin Roosevelt.
She honed her natural talent while studying music at the University of Southern California before beginning her professional career in 1954, when she dubbed the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in the film Carmen Jones. Horne’s talent and career, including notable roles in Norma, Semiramide, and Anna Bolena, have distinguished her as one of the greatest American opera performers.
Artist John Foote was born in Boston in 1929 and attended Boston University. He later studied in Florence on the advice of a friend. “The tragic thing was,” Foote commented, “I had to leave my cat of twelve years behind.” Foote greatly values his experience in Italy. “Only in Florence,” he commented, “because they are culturally brainwashed, can you go up to anyone—an old lady, a young girl, anyone—and ask to paint them and they will respond immediately ‘When?’” On November 14, Horne is receiving the National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors Award. Horne’s portrait will join those of other prominent opera figures in the National Portrait Gallery, including Marian Anderson, Maria Callas, and Leontyne Price.
Images (top to bottom): Marilyn Horne by John Foote / Oil on canvas, 1971 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Marilyn Horne
Marilyn Horne with portrait Artist John Foote
Blog post and all photos by Warren Perry