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 Marshall J. Bouldin III  (1923 - 2012)

About: Marshall J. Bouldin III


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Lived/Active: Mississippi/Tennessee      Known for: celebrity portrait painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist.

Marshall J. Bouldin III, Painter of Politicians, Dies at 89
Published: November 15, 2012

Marshall J. Bouldin III, a Mississippi portrait artist whose paintings hung in the White House and the halls of Congress, and whose subjects included 20th-century Southern political leaders, President Richard M. Nixon’s daughters and William Faulkner, died on Monday in Memphis. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by the Meredith-Nowell Funeral Home in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Having one’s portrait painted by Mr. Bouldin was for many decades considered one of the ultimate perks of power in the South. He painted investment bankers in Nashville and prominent developers in Atlanta; Senator John C. Stennis of Mississippi; Representative Claude Pepper of Florida; and Jim Wright of Texas, the speaker of the House. And he painted Ronald McNair, a crew member killed in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger; the portrait hangs in the planetarium named for him in Jackson, Miss.

Mr. Bouldin, the son of the most prominent cotton farmer in Clarksdale, was in his 30s before he fully committed to becoming an artist. He had studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and worked as an illustrator in New York for a few years, but then returned to Clarksdale to manage the family’s cotton farm in the early 1950s.

“I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a farmer,” he said in an interview with American Artist magazine in 1991. “I came to the conclusion that I was meant to be a portrait painter; I loved art and I loved people, and portraiture was the natural expression of my interests.”

Encouraged by his wife, Mary Ellen, Mr. Bouldin converted an old henhouse on the farm into a studio and began painting full time in 1956. His wife, a medical school student at the time, brought home bones for him to draw and shared her anatomy books with him.

He received his first portrait commission in 1961: $20 for a rendering of a neighbor.
In 1968, friends involved in Nixon’s presidential campaign arranged for Mr. Bouldin to paint the Nixons’ daughters, Patricia and Julie, for $12,000. The commission was paid for by Women for Nixon, as a gift to Mr. Nixon and his wife, Pat. By 1989, when he was commissioned to paint Speaker Wright’s official portrait, Mr. Bouldin’s fee was $25,000.

(Speaker Wright, who was forced to resign that same year because of an ethics scandal, returned two years later for the official unveiling of his Bouldin portrait. According to The Washington Post, he remarked, “I’m here for my hanging.”)

Mr. Bouldin was known for his grueling schedule — he worked a 70-hour week into his 70s — and an easygoing style that helped him move in a Southern culture not always comfortable with artists. “At a party,” a Nashville businessman was quoted saying in a 1970 profile of Mr. Bouldin in The New York Times, “you’d never take him for an artist. Why, he looks just like a banker or anyone else.”

Mr. Bouldin was modest about his work. “It really doesn’t matter how good my portraits really are,” he said in a videotaped interview in 2005. “What matters is, I’m giving some people pleasure.”

He returned to the theme in the same interview. “You might say I’m not making anybody happy but one rich man, or two rich men,” he added. “But no. The passer-by — the passers-by — they see it, too. So maybe that means something else. And maybe one of my paintings, one day, will end up in a museum.”

The Mississippi Museum of Art held a retrospective exhibit of his work a few years later.

Marshall Jones Bouldin III was born on Sept. 6, 1923, in Dundee, Miss.

Survivors include his wife, a physician; four sons, Marshall IV, James, Mahlon and Jason; three grandchildren; and a sister, Helen Jones.

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