Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Unveiling Walter J. Crain's Portrait on Martin Luther King Day at the Hotchkiss School

The Unveiling of Walter J. Crain's portrait at the Hotchkiss School

At the unveiling: left to right: Portrait artist Susan B. Durkee, Jay Crain, Adrienne C. Dedjinou, Roger Crain and Head of the Hotchkiss School, Craig Bradley


On January 17th 2018, Martin Luther King Day, my portrait of Walter J. Crain Jr. was unveiled during a  beautiful ceremony in Elfer's Hall at the Hotchkiss School.

"Walter J. Crain Jr."  oil on linen 33 x 28 Collection the Hotchkiss School

I was contacted in the spring of 2017, by the Hotchkiss School for another portrait commission, Walter J. Crain, Jr.  Walter was a  beloved faculty member, mentor and coach for 33 years at the Hotchkiss School.                                                                                                                                                                   Here is what one of his admiring students said about Walter:

It was decided, in order to fully honor Walter for all his years at Hotchkiss, we would create a portrait  with a large central image of Walter bordered by small surrounding portrait vignettes. The Crain family saw a similar commission of mine, my portrait Vincent A. Gierer, Jr. former President of UST Inc., that had this motif, and they loved this idea. It was a very exciting commission and I enjoyed  painting the fun small vignettes and capturing on canvas such a remarkable and fine man.

 Below is the reference photo layout for the portrait.

Reference Photo  collage layout for Walter Crain's portrait.

 Below is a copy of the  Winter/Spring  2018 Hotchkiss Magazine featuring this special unveiling:

To see more of my commissioned portraiture please visit: www.SusanDurkee.com

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Painting Gloria Steinem's portrait for the Ms. Foundation

Painting Gloria Steinem's portrait for the Ms. Foundation

Gloria Steinem, oil on linen 42 x 30


 I created this original oil portrait for the benefit of the Ms. Foundation and to honor such an amazing champion, not only of Women’s rights but for all humanity. I painted Gloria wearing her Medal of Freedom given to her by President Obama, her famous silver conch belt and the Ms. Foundation Logo behind her. 

To see  more of my portraiture visit:



Monday, February 20, 2017

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Women's Portraiture

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Women’s Portraiture

 Throughout history, the fields of fine art have unfairly promoted men’s artistic efforts and given little or token recognition to woman’s art. In today’s world, woman are no longer hindered in their creative expression due to social restrictions or of the time demands motherhood and homemaking. 


 So what accounts for today’s lack of recognition of women artists?


Here is what Wikipedia says about woman in the art world:

“While female artists have been involved in making art throughout history, their work often has not been as well acknowledged as that of men. Often certain media are associated with women artists, such as textile arts. Women's roles in relation to art, of course, vary in different cultures and communities. Many art forms considered to be created predominantly by women have been historically dismissed from the art historical canon as craft, as opposed to fine art.[1] Women artists faced challenges due to gender biases in the mainstream fine art world.[1] They have often encountered difficulties in training, travelling and trading their work, and gaining recognition.”


 In his treatise Women and Art, Karl Scheffler said, "In an Amazonian state, there would be neither culture, history nor art." He went on to fault women’s inability to gain spiritual insight. Some male artists have also degraded their female colleagues. The Impressionist Edgar Degas, a known male supremacist, saw women as "animals" with an "absence of all feeling in the presence of art." American artist, Thomas Hart Benton believed that "an art school is a place for young girls to pass the time between high school and marriage."

Another excellent example of this discrimination involves the world renown Sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington. Despite being a 20th century artist, when she won first place in a Paris competition for her life-size equestrian statue of Joan of Arc in 1910, the judges took back the prize when they discovered she was female.


This unfairness is also evident in the higher levels of professional oil portraiture.  It is usually the men, that arrange for the most important and expensive high profile portrait commissions. In fact, if you search the best portrait painters, you will find only men listed. The galleries, portrait brokers, and historians contribute to this ongoing bias.


Woman portrait artists have a very special and unique gift to give to portraiture. We are not so encumbered by egos but instead evoke a genuine care and sensitivity to the human spirit.  These are very important and necessary attributes for fine traditional portraiture. As a professional portrait artist for nearly 30 years I have found what makes a beautiful timeless portrait is truth, love and the faithful giving of the artist’s spirit totally onto the canvas. 



The more goodness and love the artist feels from within and projects out onto the canvas the more the portrait flows, capturing the spirit of the individual. Creating portraits and art is not only an important cultural need but it is truly spiritual…a devotion to faith and love and truth.

It is long overdue for women to finally be recognized and treated fairly in the art world. As artists, women have much to contribute, especially in today’s unsettled and uncompassionate world.



 Susan Boone Durkee

Mark Twain’s The Lobster Pot Studio



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Painting Catharine Lorillard Wolfe's Portrait

Painting Catharine Lorillard Wolfe's portrait:             "A Woman ahead of her time".

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe  Collection Grace Church, New York, N.Y., 22 x 18 oil on linen

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was a prominent American philanthropist who strongly believed in the value of education and the role museums could play in presenting art to the public.



 She was the only woman of the 106 founding members of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The bequest of her art collection was her most significant philanthropic endeavor. Her collection gave the Metropolitan its first significant representation of the kinds of paintings that appealed to the general public. Miss Wolfe subsequently bequeathed 140 paintings to the museum, including Weaning the Calves (1879) by Rosa Bonheur, and an endowment for their maintenance. Wolfe's gift of $200,000 was the first permanent endowment fund for buying art ever given to a major American museum.

As a proud elected member of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, I was inspired to paint her portrait because of her generosity, social good will, her dedication to supporting women, and cultivating quality fine arts, and because I had a unique family connection with the Lorillards.


 She was a strong and passionate woman who, instead of just being a  wealthy socialite, really wanted to help make the world better.

The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club was established in 1896. The purpose at the time was to provide aid, counsel and exhibition opportunities to young women artists in New York City. 

Now, getting back to my challenge to bring recognition to such a caring, generous and special woman…where to find an image reference for her portrait!

    I looked everywhere, The New York Library, New York Historical Society, The Newport Rhode Island Historical Society, The Smithsonian, The Library of Congress, The National Portrait Gallery, and The New York Times Archives.  Consequently, I had to do a lot of research…which I will explain further on. I had found no images of Catharine, besides the beautiful oil portrait by Alexandre Cabanel painted in 1876, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.




Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1876, Aleandre Cabanel, Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art,                      The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection 




But I was not going to give up! Yes, I did finally find an image of Catharine, in her later 40's. It was a rendering after a photograph by William Kurtz, in the collection of the New York Public Library, (I could not find the photo the rendering was based on). 

Now, I had something to start with! I had the face to base the portrait from and the background. I placed Catharine in the same background color scheme as in the Metropolitan Museum Cabanel portrait. This way, she is captured in her real setting in her real period of time. I also changed her hair style so it would be as elegant as in the Cabanel portrait. But I still needed a torso and period dress that fitted her respected social status and period of the 1870's. After much research, I found in the Library of Congress, a photograph of President Garfield's wife, in an elegant day dress of the same exact period.


Catharine Lorillard Wolfe rendering after William Kurtz photograph artist unknown






Detail of Cabanel Portrait


The rendering proportionately  placed on the Garfield torso and dress



Also, I have a very unique connection to Catharine, which I think added to my inspiration for painting her portrait.  My great-great grandfather Charles Littlefield and my great-great uncle R. Wyndham Walden, both in the Racing Hall of Fame, were the horse trainers for the Lorillard family. 


The Lorillard family were one on the most successful and powerful racing families in the mid-to late 1800’s. Under my great-great uncles R. Wyndham Walden guidance, the Lorillard family won the Preakness Stakes a record five straight years between 1878 and 1882; the Belmont Stakes in 1878, 1880, and 1881; and the Travers Stakes in 1878 and 1880. Among George Lorillard's best horses were the famous Saunterer, Vanguard, Grenada, Tom Ochiltree, and Duke of Magenta


What is even more exciting for me is that I have letters, (dating from the late 1800’s) of horse racing correspondence between George Lorillard and the Walden family. My great great-grandfather, Charles Littlefield also trained for Pierre Lorillard, George Lorillard’s brother.


This has been a fun, exciting and rewarding portrait to create!


To see more of my portraiture, please visit my website:


A wonderful mid-late 1800's print showing RW Walden & Lorillard winnings

I received this lovely letter from Reverend J. Don Waring of Grace Church:



To see more portraits by Susan Boone Durkee, visit: