One of the things the trained eye of an artist was reading was that life story in his face, and the trained hand of an artist was setting down in line and pigment what the eye saw and the heart understood.
One of the word's rare words of art, destined to become richer in meaning and deeper in significance as generations pass, is THE UNFINISHED PORTRAIT of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Complete in all but its final details, this painting stands in The Little White House at Warm Springs, Georgia, where on the afternoon of April 12, 1945, the President died.
No brush stroke has been added, no line has been taken away, since that moment when the artist sat transfixed with paintbrush poised, as no more than ten feet away from her, he reached a shaking hand to his forehead, and slumped in his chair, stricken by a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
The The eye of an artist sees into the human heart, and a portrait that is truly and honestly done tells all that a man is, and, was, in life. The portrait of the President which Elizabeth Shoumatoff was painting at the moment of his passing is a true and honest portrait. The strain of the terrible years of depression and war is graphically etched in the lined face.
Clearly, here is a man who has dared much, has endured much, has suffered much, and who is now weary. But in the light of the clear blue eyes the great intelligence
intelligence still shines through, and in the set of the firm jaw there is determination, and in the still jaunty tilt of the head, great confidence. There is warm compassion there, but no weakness, and no fear.
There is symbolism, perhaps, in the fact that the portrait was unfinished, so was the life of the man portrayed. Behind him lay great achievements; ahead of him lay great decisions still to come. In the rubble of ruined Berlin the war in Europe was grinding to a close. The war with Japan was still aflame in the Pacific, but in some secret, hidden spot, the bomb that would end it, built at his order, was nearly ready to shed its strange and terrible light upon the world.
The old enemies he had fought in depression times were not yet fully conquered, yet the battle plans he had drawn up so long before to combat hunger and disease and ignorance at home, were slowly winning that great fight too.
So he stood, like a tired but confident warrior, on the threshold of victory, and the artist captured that moment in color and line and preserved it for history. Her work, like his, was almost done. All the important things were there, the eyes, the mouth, the shape of the head, the set of the shoulders, the color of the skin which, in the few minutes before his death, had strangely turned from an ashen pallor to a semblance of ruddy health.
All that remained for her to complete a great portrait were a few more brush strokes. All that remained for him, to round out a great and noble career, were a few more years. The Creator, in His infinite wisdom, ended life and portrait together.
Out of her memories of how he looked that day, Elizabeth Shoumatoff painted another, THE UNFINISHED PORTRAIT. And out of their faith in him, perhaps, the people who believed in him, in years to come will add the final brush strokes to the great canvas that was his life, will finish the fight against tyranny, against hunger, against fear and intolerance, which he began.