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Tobey with
"Portrait of a Woman"
#480 Oil on canvas 24 x 20

The Portraits

"In the realm of portraits, the following thoughts must be kept in the forefront of our minds. We are all absolutely unique. Every single person is unlike anyone else. Therefore in creating a portrait of someone -- whether painted, sculpted, drawn or photographed, we must look carefully to catch that particular unique quality. In fact, we can neglect nothing because everything we select or do sends a message to the observer -- the clothes, the pose, the type of light and shade, the position of the person, the background, the furniture, whether the color is bright or subdued, the manner of brush strokes; even the frame contributes the message as you perceive it."

--- Alton Tobey

          Tobey was a master at practising what he preached ... capturing not only the likeness but the essence and personality of his subjects, be they dignitaries or families and children. These pages offer a sampling of Tobey's career as a portraitist, but this represents only a fraction of the more than 3000 likenesses of people that he created in his 60 years in this profession.


Albert Einstein
#069. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

Ronald Reagan
#102. Oil on canvas 18 x 18

Brothers United
#504. Oil on canvasboard 24 x 20

ABOVE LEFT: In the 1940's Tobey had an honor that would forever influence his art. His all time hero, Albert Einstein privately posed for his portrait. Within a few sittings, Tobey completed the portrait to the exclamation of Einstein "Wonderful, now I know that if I ever fail as a physicist, I can always be an artist's model!"

ABOVE CENTER: The beautifully captured portrait of President Reagan was completed as a study for the mural commissioned by the President's Council for Physical Fitness and Sports.

ABOVE RIGHT: Called upon to honor the Kennedys after the assassination, Tobey created "Brothers United" which was reproduced by the thousands and distributed nationally.

         Tobey painted literally hundreds of portraits of important figures in United States history over the years, which can be seen on the page devoted to his 300+ historical paintings published in the Golden Books History of The United States series. In 1968, however, he did a series of miniature presidential portraits for a poster, which may be of particular interest to history enthusiasts, and which can be viewed by clicking here. After viewing these 36 portraits of the presidents, use your browser's 'back' button or click on the link at the bottom of the page that directs you to return to the portrait page to return here.

The Apollo Astronauts
#476. Oil on canvas 24 x 30

Ugo Mochi
#286. Oil on canvas 28 x 32

ABOVE LEFT: The portrait of the three Apollo 11 astronauts, commissioned to celebrate the lunar landing in 1969 is perhaps Tobey's most recognizable group portrait, as millions of reproductions were sold across the USA. Pictured left to right are pilot Edwin Aldrin, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, & Commander Neil Armstrong.

ABOVE RIGHT: Tobey had the uncanny ability to convey the intensity of his subjects' convictions and depth of their souls. One can't help but see Ugo Mochi's intensity, kindness and love of his work through this exquisite portrait of Mochi who was recognized as the world's leading sillouette artist of his time.

A 7-page illustrated feature article on Mochi's art, written by Alton Tobey for American Artist appeared in the magazine's June 1976 issue, and can be accessed and downloaded from here by clicking on the active link above.

Robert Frost
#255. Oil on canvas 40 x 30

#068. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

John L. Lewis
#236. Oil on canvas 40 x 30

Pearl Firestone
#067. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

Mother & Daughter
#066. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

Mrs. Boner
#067. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

          The poise and grandeur of men, so artfully depicted is greatly contrasted by the graceful femininity and elegance seen in the portraits for Tobey's female subjects.

The Graff Family - San Diego
#065. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

           One can feel the love, lightness and connection captured in his portraits of families. In the portrait below, Tobey wanted to express a degree of refinement, detail, delicacy and lightness that he felt would be inadequately expressed were he to use oil paints. Relying on his past experience in one of art's most difficult mediums, he decided that it must be executed in egg tempera.

Eunice & Jeff Pearl
Eunice and Jeff Pearl
#091. Egg Tempera 20 x 23, 1940.

           Egg tempera painting, although dating back to the 14th century and being second only in history to the oldest medium, encaustics, has changed very little in over six centuries. This is very possibly because it it one of the most laborious and intricate techniques ever developed. It has been employed by very few modern artists, with the exception of modern Russian Iconographers, who have preserved it through the ages in religious painting.

           To effectively complete an egg tempera painting, the surface of a wood panel must first be prepared that will accept the medium and guarantee permanence. Most tempera paintings were originally, created on wood panels that are prepared in the historically traditional manner, since egg tempera will not adhere to modern pre-manufactured commercially prepared panels coated with acrylic medium. Wooden panels for tempera require a special method of preparation. After the wood is dried and sanded smooth, it then must be covered with a layer of liquid gesso made by mixing gypsum (a white chalk pounded into powder), with glue made from animal skins.

           Different types of tempera paint have been in use since ancient Egypt. Artists use egg yolk as binding agent, which has to carefully separated from the white of the eggs, after which colored pigments are mixed in to create egg tempera paint. Artists use minerals and other ground elements to create different colors, and each needs to be prepared and blended according to specific recipes. Once applied, egg tempera paint dries very quickly, so there is little room for mistakes. Moreover, the paint does not keep well, so it must be mixed freshly each time the artist wishes to return to work on a painting. Te portrait above is a subperb example of Tobey's mastery of the medium, which was derived from amny years of practice on other works he did in this medium including a 5 by 13 foot mural completely done in egg tempera for the East Hartford branch of the U.S. Post Office he created in 1940, which can be seen on his murals page on this website.


David & Judy Tobey
#134. Oil on canvas 48 x 36


Judy Tobey
#235. Oil on canvas 40 x 30

          Tobey's own family were often the subjects of his work. When his children David and Judy were 5 and 9 years old, Tobey expressed his love of them by creating this adoring portrait of them together. Later, for Judy's 16th birthday present, Tobey surprised her by immortalizing her with her best friend, her kitty cat, Nut-Nut on her lap.

Cardinal Cooke
#064. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

A Rabbi
#285. Oil on canvas 35 x 27.5

Pope John Paul II
#063. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

           Tobey's subjects included many religious leaders, both contemporary and historical, from many faiths. A few of his subjects are seen above, and more of his published religious prints and other works can be seen on his "collectibles" page, which can be found under "published works". The portraits of Cardinal Cooke and of Pope John Paul II are in the collection of the Archdiocese of New York, and the Rabbi print in the center above was reproduced as black and white prints for the benefit of a synagogue in Westchester County, NY.


Flagello as Falstaff
#060. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

Merrill as Amonastro
#062. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

          Tobey was keenly attuned to classical music and opera, and had a love for theatrical drama. It was therefore a great joy for him when he painted Flagello, beautifully capturing the opera star for his Lincoln Center performance role of Falstaff; and Robert Merrill in his role as Amonasro in the Metropolitan Opera production of Aida. The Merrill portrait is in the collection of The Metropolitan Opera Association.

#061. Oil on canvas 24 x 36

          Beethoven was one of Tobey's favorite composers. This realistic portrait shows the composer struggling with the creation of his Ninth Symphony, which was created after he had become completely deaf.

          But perhaps a solely representational image of the composer was inadequate to completely convey the inner turmoil Beethoven must have felt while working on this musical composition. Drawing upon his experience in non-figurative and abstract work, Tobey subsequently rendered a series of six additional paintings -- optical warpings of this realistic portrait -- as a painter's subjective visual interpretation of the frustration that the composer must have felt in the creation and structuring of this, the last of his symphonic works. These six paintings can be viewed on a separate page by activating this link to The Beethoven Distortions.

          As an historical painter, Tobey created literally hundreds of portraits in his murals and historical illustrations of military, government and other important figures in world history. A special collection of miniature oil portraits of 36 Presidents of The United States that he created for a Redbook Magazine project can be seen by visiting his President's Page.

          After visiting either of the two pages above, you can return to this page by either using your browser's "back" button or by using the navigation links at the bottom of the pages.

"There is a kinship between music and painting -- with the same words used to describe both, as when a musical composition is said to have color and a painting to have rhythm."

--- Alton Tobey

            A new page with many more of Tobey's portraits has been added to this site as of April, 2005. If you haven't seen them yet, just click on the first link below at the bottom of this page to go there, or just click here to see them.


Tobey The Man

Master of Realism

Beyond Realism

The Alton Tobey Collection

Judith Tobey, David Tobey; Directors

All copy & images on this website copyright � Alton Tobey 2004 et al.
No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publishers.