Sep 24, 2020 - Sale 2546

Sale 2546 - Lot 192

Price Realized: $ 40,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 40,000 - $ 60,000
(PRESIDENTS--1945) Elizabeth Shoumatoff. Three watercolor studies for the famous "Unfinished Portrait" of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Watercolor and pencil on artist board, two of them 22 x 15 inches and the other 13 x 10 inches; roughly trimmed with minor edge wear; not examined out of their archivally matted uniform frames, each 27 x 20 inches. [Warm Springs, GA, 11 April 1945]

Additional Details

Elizabeth Avinoff Shoumatoff (1888-1980) came to America as a Russian émigré in 1917 and soon found herself in demand as a society portrait artist. In 1945, she secured permission to paint President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who sat for her at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. The artist told the story in her 1991 book, "FDR's Unfinished Portrait: A Memoir": "In the afternoon I continued making sketches for the background of the portrait in the cottage. . . . The pose was decided upon, but not the background. The portrait was to be life-size. I made one sketch with a plain background, another with some landscape resembling the surroundings at Hyde Park, still another with dark clouds which was quite effective. When Lucy [Rutherford], Laura Delano, and Margaret Suckley came in to see me and looked at the sketches, the plain background was unanimously approved. I showed this to the president before he left for a drive with Lucy and one of his cousins. She also thought the plain background best, though for a moment the suggestion of Hyde Park intrigued the president."
She began work on the final oil on canvas portrait the next day at about noon on 12 April 1945. Shortly before the president was ready to break for lunch, he slumped forward in his chair. He never regained consciousness before passing away at 3:35 p.m.
"The Unfinished Portrait" became one of the most enduring images of the late president; it presently hangs at the museum in Warm Springs, and was the basis for two completed portraits--one commissioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson to hang at the White House. These sketches, however, remained in Shoumatoff's possession. Provenance: gift of Elizabeth Shoumatoff's estate to the private Roosevelt American Heritage Center and Museum in Worcester, MA circa 2006; sold to the consignor at the museum's Heritage sale, June 2008, lot 53249.