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Portrait of an Artist

Headshot of an woman with gray hair laying in green grass
“There’s this idea that in portraiture it’s the photographer’s job to set the subject at ease. I don’t believe that. All the work that I’ve ever done, the ideas emanate from that person: stand over here, present yourself. We’re so complicated as human beings, there’s so many parts to us. That’s where the ideas come from. Even in the most set-up situations I believe there’s really something going on.” – Annie Leibovitz
Women sits on stool in doorway with larger light behind her and camera on tripod in front of her.
Annie Leibovitz, Self Portrait, Brooklyn, New York, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist ©Annie Leibovitz.

Annie Leibovitz has photographed many well-known American artists throughout her career, including several in the Crystal Bridges collection. Leibovitz has spoken often about her collaborative process with a subject in creating her portraits, so we thought it would be a fun visual exercise to place her portrait of an artist in conversation with that artist’s work from our collection. These are some of the most influential artists working in the United States over the past few decades, as Annie sees them.

Keith Haring

Annie Leibovitz, Keith Haring, New York, 1986. Archival Pigment Print 20x24.5 in. Photo courtesy of the artist ©Annie Leibovitz.
Keith Haring, Two-Headed Figure
Keith Haring, Two-Headed Figure, 1986, polyurethane paint on aluminum, 96 x 82 x 56 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

In 1986, in New York, Annie made a portrait of the artist Keith Haring. She asked Haring to paint himself and she made a white set that looked like a living room. When he came in, he painted the set in less than an hour. Then he painted himself in about five minutes. When the portrait was finished, Haring said he would like to go out. It was a cold winter night, but no one, including a couple of policemen who were there, questioned why a painted, naked man was standing in the middle of Times Square.

Mickalene Thomas

Annie Leibovitz, Mickalene Thomas, Brooklyn, New York, 2022. Photo courtesy of the artist ©Annie Leibovitz.
Mickalene Thomas, Guernica (Resist #3), 2021, rhinestones, acrylic, and oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, 83 x 108 x 2 1/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2022.8. © Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Staged in her Brooklyn, NY, studio, this portrait shows Mickalene Thomas at work, offering a glimpse into her creative space. Leibovitz often photographs artists in their studios, and she took this portrait of Thomas after Vanity Fair selected her as one of today’s most influential women artists. Currently on view in the Contemporary Gallery, her work Guernica (Resist #3) layers imagery from the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements alongside motifs from Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937).

Amy Sherald

Photo of woman in a green off shoulder dress next to a stairwell shot through a doorway
Annie Leibovitz, Amy Sherald, Columbus, GA, 2022. ©Annie Leibovitz.
Four African-American teenagers at the beach with two girls sitting on the shoulders of two boys
Amy Sherald, Precious jewels by the sea, 2019, oil on canvas, 120 in. × 108 in. × 2 1/2 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

Leibowitz created this portrait of Amy Sherald in her childhood home in Columbus, Georgia. She took this photograph through a doorway, making the viewer feel like they are looking in on a private space. Her green dress stands out against the wash of yellow light, and her bare feet signal she is at home. Vanity Fair also selected Sherald as one of today’s most influential women artists, and Leibovitz took this portrait for her feature. In the painting, Precious Jewels by the Sea, Sherald creates a picture-perfect scene of Americana, continuing her efforts to increase the visibility of Black Americans.

Louise Bourgeois

Annie Leibovitz, Louis Borgeois, New York, 1997. Archival Pigment Print 20x27.4 in. Photo courtesy of the artist ©Annie Leibovitz.
image of maman sculpture on the museum grounds
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, bronze, stainless steel, and marble, 30ft. 5 in. × 29ft. 3 in. × 33ft. 7 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2014.20.

Maman by Louise Bourgeois stands majestically on the grounds of Crystal Bridges, greeting guests who arrive at the museum via the Art Trail that leads to our south entrance. Measuring over 30 feet in both height and width, and made of bronze, stainless steel and marble, this impressive spider sculpture seems to step right out of the forest surrounding her. If you look closely at her belly, you can see that Maman carefully holds 32 marble eggs in her egg sac, revealing the inspiration for the work’s title. Bourgeois created Maman, the French term for “mommy,” as an homage to her mother.

Jasper Johns

A photographed portrait of artist Jasper Johns, who looks at the camera as he reclines in a green chair in his painting studio.
Annie Leibovitz, Jasper Johns, Connecticut, 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist ©Annie Leibovitz.
Jasper Johns, Flag
Jasper Johns, Flag, 1983, encaustic on silk flag on canvas, 11 5/8 × 17 1/2 in. (29.5 × 44.5 cm) Framed: 22 1/2 in. × 28 in. × 3 5/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2014.27

Leibovitz photographed Jasper Johns in his studio in Sharon, Connecticut for the 2012 December issue of Vogue. Relaxed in a chair, he poses in front of shelves lined with treasured objects. Johns became famous for his paintings of symbols, like the American flag. Johns used the flag as both subject and material. Here, he adhered a flag to the canvas and layered pigment mixed with wax over the surface.