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 William Franklin Draper  (1912 - 2003)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: portrait, marine, townscape, genre

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Ad Code: 3
William Franklin Draper
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of President John
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William Franklin Draper, born in Hopedale, Massachusetts, became one of America's more noted combat and portraits artists, who depicted many of the country's wealthiest and most prominent individuals.  His portrait of John F. Kennedy hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC., and in 1999, he received the Gold Medal from the National Portrait Society, its highest honor.

His father was Clare H. Draper and his mother Mathilda Engamn Draper.  He first studied to be a concert pianist for several years.  In the end he chose painting as a career.

His art training began at Pomfret School in Connecticut and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  From there he went on to The National Academy of Design in New York, and the Cape Art School in Massachusetts where he studied with Henry Henche.  He continued his instruction abroad in Spain as well as at the Grand Chaumiere, Paris, France.  In 1937 he studied sculpture with George Demetrius, a Boston sculptor, and the following year was under the instruction of illustrator Jon Corbino at the Art Students League in New York.

Draper was commissioned as a Lieutenant JG in the Naval Reserve in June 1942. His first assignment was with the Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit in Boston. He transferred to the Art Section in Washington, DC, and shortly thereafter was sent to Alaska where he spent over five months in the Aleutian Island Chain painting a series of 42 oils including Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Umnak, Adak and Amchitka. He was present at the initial occupation, and also the Japanese attack on Amchitka Island.  He depicted the attack with bombs bursting and shells flying within close range of his foxhole.  In making this series of paintings, he ran into difficulties peculiar to the climate of the Aleutians, such as eccentric winds blowing his canvas into the air like a kite, and conditions of arctic weather that made painting only possible by wearing gloves to keep his hands from freezing.

After his return from Alaska, he was designated to paint the portrait of Rear Admiral J. R. Beardal, the Superintendent of the Naval Academy.  Upon completion of the portrait, he was assigned to the Pacific where he painted various naval activities at Noumea and other bases.  He was commissioned to paint the portraits of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and Admiral William F. Halsey.

Draper also landed with the second wave of marines at Bougainville.  After Bougainville he was assigned duty on the USS Yorktown, an Essex-class carrie, and painted a series of works on the first air attack on Palau.  He covered the landings at Hollandia and the air strike on Truk.

Draper covered the invasion of Saipan and Guam aboard the USS Tennessee, depicting the powerful destruction that hit these islands.  While he was aboard, the Tennessee was hit three times.  He landed, and remained, on Saipan for eighteen days, recording the bitter struggle and eventual success of this action.  At Guam, he landed with the assault troops under heavy enemy fire.

For his services in the Pacific, Draper was awarded the Bronze Star.  He left the service in October 1945 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  He returned to his career as a painter, becoming one of the premiere portrait painters in America.  Some of his subjects included John F. Kennedy (1962), the Shah of Iran (1967), art collector Paul Mellon, 1974, author James Michener (1979) and Richard M. Nixon (1981).

His paintings may be found at the National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, and the Navy Art Collection, all in Washington D.C.  The Navy Art Collection is at the Washington Navy Yard, Navy Art Gallery, Building 67.

He was a member of the Century, Harvard, Knickerbocker,and Lotus Clubs in New York, where he lived most of his life.

additional information and corrections courtesy of his daughter Margaret Draper.

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William Draper is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Notable Alaska

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