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Russian portrait artist and US President: how was the “Unfinished portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt written»

Elizabeth Shumatova was a Russian-American artist who created numerous portraits of influential American and European figures throughout the twentieth century. But she is best known for painting an unfinished portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why couldn’t she finish the job?
“Unfinished portrait” is a painting by Elizabeth Nikolaevna Shumatova, in which she portrayed the former US President-Franklin Roosevelt. The artist was commissioned to paint a portrait of the President and she began her work around noon on April 12, 1945. During lunch, Roosevelt complained of a headache and later on… he collapsed into a chair. As it turned out later, the former us President suffered a stroke (brain hemorrhage) and died on the same day.

The background to the creation of the portrait
Elizaveta Nikolaevna Shumatova (nee Avinova) was born on October 6, 1888 in an aristocratic family in Kharkiv. She was a Russian-American artist who became famous for one historical work – “Unfinished portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt”. The artist’s brother-Andrey Avinov-was an outstanding entomologist and artist. In 1917, Elizabeth Shumatova went with her husband Lev Shumatov to the United States (her husband is a member of the Russian purchasing Commission). After the October revolution, they decided to stay there forever. The family settled in long island. In the absence of professional art education, Elizabeth Shumatova’s extraordinary talent and hard work soon led her to create an individual style that made her paintings instantly recognizable.
Shumatova’s extraordinary artistic gift for portraiture attracted the attention of prominent and famous families in America, great Britain, and Europe. Her clients included the Grand Ducal family of Luxembourg, members of the Frick family, the famous du Pont, Mellon, Woodruff, and Firestone families.

In 1937, she met Lucy page Mercer-Rutherford, a longtime friend (and according to some sources, mistress) of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lucy was 22 years old, a dark – haired, elegant and attractive young lady-just as James had seen her in 1913. In addition to being very pretty, this girl was intelligent and well-educated. In 1943, Lucy convinced Roosevelt to invite Shumatova to paint his portrait. Rutherford said to her friend: “You really should paint a portrait of the President. He has such a wonderful face! But today there are no pictures that reflect the true character of the President. I think you could create a beautiful portrait. If we organize the process, Would you agree to write?”. Although Shumatova did not support the President’s progressive views, she agreed to paint the portrait. In the end, she spent three days doing it and was won over by Roosevelt’s charisma and wit. Shumatova accepted this offer, saying that she could not reject the President’s confidence. Roosevelt himself was so impressed by her talent that he immediately asked her to paint another life-size portrait of him, which would be displayed in the White house.
The process of creating a portrait
The first session was held on April 9, 1945 . Shumatova and her assistant, photographer Robbins, arrived in warm springs. On this day, they discussed the nature of the portrait and a series of photographic sketches made by Robbins. The artist suggested that the President wear a red bow tie for the next session: she wanted the portrait to have a little red color. The President agreed.

The second session was scheduled for April 12. Elizaveta Shumatova started working on the portrait of the President around noon. On this day, she began working on a watercolor portrait, occasionally speaking to the President to make the face in the portrait look more lively. At two o’clock the footman began to set the table. The President looked at the artist and said ,” we have 15 minutes left to work.” These words were the last that MS Shumatova heard from the President.

Roosevelt was served lunch when he said, ” I have a very bad pain in the back of my head.” With that, he collapsed into a chair, unconscious. The President was carried into the bedroom and a doctor was immediately called. The attending cardiologist, Dr. Howard Bruenn, diagnosed a massive cerebral hemorrhage in the brain (stroke). Roosevelt never regained consciousness and died at 3:35 p.m. that night. Shumatova never completed the portrait. The President’s body was transported by train to Washington, D.C., and then to his estate in Hyde Park for burial. Thousands of mourners lined up to say goodbye to Roosevelt.
The second portrait
Later, Shumatova decided to finish the unfinished portrait and write a new work. They are absolutely identical, except for one difference: in the original picture, the President’s tie is red, and in the second work – blue. All other elements are completely identical. Both works hang on the walls of the former Roosevelt estate in warm springs, Georgia, known as the Little White House.

What did Shumatova deserve such trust from the President and why was the Russian portrait painter, although very famous, allowed to enter Roosevelt’s chambers? This will remain a mystery to everyone. Perhaps it was his friendship with Lucy Mercer-Rutherford. Or maybe the President was fascinated by the artistic talent of the portraitist.

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