Painting - Portrait of Ayn Rand by Ilona


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ariloprt.jpg

The first picture I saw of Ayn Rand was the portrait by Ilona on the back of the first copy of Atlas Shrugged that I bought. It looked rather vague, except for the two dark eyes. It didn't seem to me to be a good likeness, even if I had nothing to compare it with, there was something wooden and schematic about it. That impression was only strengthened later when I saw photos of Rand. The painting suggests someone with blonde, wavy hair that I associate rather with types like Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe than with the sharp and dark features of Rand.

According to the text on the site where I found the picture (http://www.papertig.com/ilona_portrait.htm), this painting was Rand's favorite likeness of herself. I wonder whether she liked the portrait so much while it presented her as she wanted to be (a glamorous blonde, but with the dark eyes - beautiful and intelligent), rather than as she really was?

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The first picture I saw of Ayn Rand was the portrait by Ilona on the back of the first copy of Atlas Shrugged that I bought. It looked rather vague, except for the two dark eyes. It didn't seem to me to be a good likeness [...]. That impression was only strengthened later when I saw photos of Rand. The painting suggests someone with blonde, wavy hair that I associate rather with types like Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe than with the sharp and dark features of Rand.

Interesting, your thinking it suggests someone with "blonde, wavy hair." I've had a copy of that portrait for years and never thought of it as being of someone blonde, instead as being like a negative (as in a photographic negative) image of someone with dark hair. Maybe part of the difference in impression is the color of the background. The reproduction you posted is on a yellowish background. The original is on an ivory-white background (as is the copy I have). The bookservice also sold prints on a bluish background.

The portrait is based on an actual photo of AR, the photo which appeared on the original back jacket cover of Atlas Shrugged -- which I am looking at as I type. It's a photo taken by Phyllis Cerf. AR is sitting on a window ledge in front of a large double-paned window which faces a city street. I believe it's a window in Bennett Cerf's office. It seems that the picture has to have been taken after he became her editor, but this puzzles me, because she looks years younger than she was when Atlas was put up for editorial bids. (She was 56 then.) She looks in her 40s, and she's slimmer than in any other picture I've seen of her (and definitely slimmer than in one which was taken in front of the bookshelves in Bennett Cerf's office at the time when Atlas was published). The angle is the reverse of the portrait: her left side (the right side as you view the photo) is forward. And the hair at the place where the upper wave is in the portrait is pinned back, maybe with a barette (I can't tell from the photo whether it's a barette or a bobby pin), so that the hair is pulled up her cheek and touches near the corner of her eye. But the hair is parted in the same place, and the way the hair falls on the right side of her face (left side looking at the photo) is like the portrait. Also, the eyes are directed as they are in the portrait -- out, above the head of the person in front of the photo or portrait, gazing at something distant (I suppose she was looking up at bookshelves across the room when the photo was taken). As I commented on RoR about the Capuletti Desnudo, that painting in turn uses the gazing-at-distance effect from the portrait .

Ellen

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ar3a.jpg

I suppose this is the photo you're referring to. I'm surprised to hear that the painting is based on this photo. I hardly see any resemblance, except for the big dark eyes. The painting seems to be more a fantasy how she wanted to look like.

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Now that's funny for me because I saw the portrait at least a couple of years before the photo.

And when I did see the photo, I was sure that's where the portrait must have come from.

I wasn't thinking blonde, either.

rde

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Ayn Rand was not a beautiful woman in the Hollywood sense. Yet she highly valued that kind of female beauty. (I have yet to meet a female who does not like to hear that she is beautiful, anyway.)

It is inconceivable to me that Rand would be unaware of her own beauty limitations when she looked in the mirror. So I find it not only obvious, but extremely understandable, that she would prefer this portrait by Ilona. It suggests a physical glamor that she sought, but was a rare experience in her own life. Her husband had it, though. She even stated somewhere that he had her kind of face.

btw - I see no implication of self-delusion in this preference. I can even see where this portrait would cause her a great deal of pleasure.

(One thing that bothers me about many of the photographs of her and the people around her at the time is that they are "posed" in expressions of looking upward. It seems that they are trying to force the idea of "seeking the highest" on their countenance and, to me at least, their stiff pictures do not come off with this effect. Notice that Ilona corrected this gaze.)

Michael

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Michael:

btw - I see no implication of self-delusion in this preference. I can even see where this portrait would cause her a great deal of pleasure.

Here I beg to differ. If she had kept that portrait private, as some cherished ideal likeness ("I'd like to be like that!"), then it wouldn't be self-delusion. But to present it to the world as her official portrait is another matter. It's the same kind of self-delusion as presenting Frank as her flesh-and-blood John Galt. In general we are no great admirers of painters who make too flattering portraits and of the people who want to be flattered that way, so why make an exception in this case? It's obvious that the hair is deliberately changed, from the dark, flat hair to the full wavy hair, of a color that I can't see as dark, but more as ash-blonde. I'm not influenced by the color of the background, as Ellen suggests, as I knew the Ilona portrait from the backside of the paperbacks. Here's a copy:

ar-ilona2.jpg

Even before I'd seen any photos of Rand, I had the feeling that this wasn't a good likeness, there's something amateurish about the painting (the eyes are definitely too large in relation to the face, for example). Then I like the photo on the back of The Virtue of Selfishness much better:

ar4a.jpg

Much more expression here than in that blonde doll with the staring, drugged eyes! Not a Hollywood beauty, but nothing ugly either, a fascinating face! IMO this could have been a excellent starting point for a painted portrait.

It has struck me that no one has ever commented on the poor likeness of the Ilona portrait, at least I have never seen any such comment. Would that be due to some kind of embarrassment or even self-delusion ("if Rand liked this portrait, it must be good!")? That was also the reason that I wanted to present it on this forum with its reasonable members...

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Even before I'd seen any photos of Rand, I had the feeling that this wasn't a good likeness, there's something amateurish about the painting (the eyes are definitely too large in relation to the face, for example). Then I like the photo on the back of The Virtue of Selfishness much better:

[....]

Much more expression here than in that blonde doll with the staring, drugged eyes! Not a Hollywood beauty, but nothing ugly either, a fascinating face! IMO this could have been a excellent starting point for a painted portrait.

It has struck me that no one has ever commented on the poor likeness of the Ilona portrait, at least I have never seen any such comment.

How fascinating, the difference in the way people see things. Although...that reproduction you're posting of the Ilona portrait isn't a good reproduction, so I suppose its kind of "stark" look is operative in your reaction. My own reproduction, which has the full canvas (the border's much cropped in the one you posted) has a softer and altogether more as if it's a vision, an imagined image seen in visual space, quality. I like the original (I mean, my print of the original), though I don't like the reproduction as shown above. I don't think that it IS a "poor likeness." An idealized likeness, but not a poor one. And the eyes don't look "staring" and "drugged" at all (in a good print). They're luminously brown, paler than in the clip above, and intelligent looking. Re their being "too large in relation to the face": yeah, well, AR's eyes WERE "too large [one might say] in relation to the face." As Barbara wrote in the Intro. to Passion: (something like this): "It was the eyes." Her eyes were enormous and rivetingly unusual.

Note to Michael: No, Ilona didn't "correct the gaze." The gaze is above the head of the person looking at the portrait, out into space, looking at something distant.

Ellen

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Dragonfly,

We will disagree here. I have produced too many artists and worked with too many actors and actresses to underplay projection of an image as something neurotic. It is done on purpose - and in my experience, the artists derive great pleasure from the image they create with their own bodies. They are normally aware that this "produced image" does not correspond to reality (at least, until they start melting down). You should see some stunningly beautiful women without make-up on, too. Plain Jane would be an effusive gush.

Rand lived around people like that in Hollywood. I see no reason why she would not adopt that kind of attitude. It sounds like hype (which I also have no problem with as a professional tool), or vanity, but it goes deeper. Artists create products to be consumed. The image of themselves they project is part of that product. (Still, hype and vanity are usually present to some degree - and that goes for practically everybody.)

Also, I never got the "drugged eyes" impression you stated from Ilona's portrait (having been owner of a pair for several years :) ). I always saw it as a stylized portrait that emphasized the penetrating eyes everybody talked about and took out the wrinkles and other bad and ugly stuff. The approach of using outline with "light from the horizon" helped and I find it charming. In short, I have never judged this portrait according to the same standard that I would judge a photograph or traditional portrait. Sorry we disagree, but my take on this is from the heart and from life experience.

I do agree with you, however, that saying something is great just because Rand did - without any thinking at all, then later with rationalizations - is one of the downers of far too many Objectivists. I have been guilty of this myself and it took a lot of living to get rid of it.

Ellen,

Rand's gaze in Ilona's portrait is looking out towards the horizon, which I like very much. In the photo, she seems to be looking at the light fixture in the middle of the ceiling, which gives me the impression that she is seeing a fly up there or a speck or detail of some sort that caught her attention.

Michael

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PS: I am puzzled by her looking so much younger and slimmer in that Phyllis Cerf photo than she was when Atlas was published. Maybe it's just coincidence that it's a photo by Phyllis Cerf and that Bennett later became her editor. Possibly it was taken back when Ogden was still her editor.

One of those little puzzles, like "the depth the parsley sank in the butter on a summer's day," referred to (and never explained) in various Agatha Christie mysteries. (Horrors, considering the number of times I once upon a time read all the Agatha mysteries -- and almost everything else Agatha ever wrote: I'm forgetting whether the parsley-in-the-butter puzzle was mentioned in the Poirot or the Marple stories, probably the Marple stories.) (And I'd be really horrified if I'm mixing up Christies with the Sherlock Holmes tales. I believe that the oft-mentioned-but-never-explained mystery in the Holmes tales is that of the dog which didn't bark in the night, and that Agatha was making a sly play on the Holmes tales with the "parsley" bit.)

ES

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The portrait by Ilona is a nice little sketch but I have never considered it to be much more than that. It kind of reminds me of a Breck girl. I do however, like the stylized simplicity of it.

I never realized it was an oil painting. As a drawing, it's fine, but as an oil painting it's rather disappointing. It lacks a certain richness. It is not a very strong rendering and barely resembles her.... although she is having a good hair day, which I'm sure made her very happy. I actually think she looks far more attractive in the photo by the window (just don't look at those arms :roll: )

I also really like the illustration of her used on the postage stamp instead of this one. Did Nick Gaetano make it without a reference photo? I know it is more of a stylized illustration rather than a portrait, but it captures both the intellegence in her eyes and a bit of glamour as well.

aynrand.jpg

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Ellen:

An idealized likeness, but not a poor one.

Well, you've known her personally and I know her only from photos and videos, but judging from those I can't place the Ilona portrait as a representation of the same person.

And the eyes don't look "staring" and "drugged" at all (in a good print). They're luminously brown, paler than in the clip above, and intelligent looking. Re their being "too large in relation to the face": yeah, well, AR's eyes WERE "too large [one might say] in relation to the face."

Rand had large eyes, but not that large! You might do that in a caricature, or in an expressionist painting, but this is obviously meant as a realistic (if idealized) presentation, and then it's just a question of poor technique. Perhaps I'm overly sensitive in that regard, but I find such errors jarring, just like the incorrect perspective in Capuletti's paintings.

Michael:

We will disagree here. I have produced too many artists and worked with too many actors and actresses to underplay projection of an image as something neurotic. It is done on purpose - and in my experience, the artists derive great pleasure from the image they create with their own bodies. They are normally aware that this "produced image" does not correspond to reality (at least, until they start melting down). You should see some stunningly beautiful women without make-up on, too. Plain Jane would be an effusive gush.

Well, in fact I never understand what people see in the so-called "beauty" of actresses and movie stars. To me it's so obviously artificial, they're all like painted dolls, I like my women only without make-up. I must be coming from another planet, as I completely fail to understand why so many people find them beautiful.

Rand lived around people like that in Hollywood. I see no reason why she would not adopt that kind of attitude. It sounds like hype (which I also have no problem with as a professional tool), or vanity, but it goes deeper. Artists create products to be consumed. The image of themselves they project is part of that product. (Still, hype and vanity are usually present to some degree - and that goes for practically everybody.)

I don't see why Rand should adopt that attitude, she was not a movie star nor a second-hander, was she? The image of the photo at the back of The Virtue of Selfishness is that of a powerful intellect, and if I were Rand, that is what I should want to project, not the dead stare of the blonde doll in Ilona's portrait. No doubt I'm treading on many Objectivist toes, but I hate the image of Marilyn Monroe.

Kat:

I never realized it was an oil painting. As a drawing, it's fine, but as an oil painting it's rather disappointing. It lacks a certain richness. It is not a very strong rendering and barely resembles her....

Ah, finally someone who agrees...!

I actually think she looks far more attractive in the photo by the window

I couldn't agree more!

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If you'd like to know my very favorite pictures of her (aside from a few taken when she was a child, one of which I find heartwrenching: that small girl with the bows in her hair, who would grow up to become that "force of nature" Ayn Rand):

--the photo which Monart Pon uses on the new OWL list:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Owl_objectivists

Some people have said she looks like a vampire in that, and maybe she does; but then maybe I like vampires ("Creatures of the night; such music they make." Bella Lagosi [sp?] as Count Dracula).

--and a photo which appears on pg. 383 of AR:The Russian Radical. She's holding her cigarette holder (the cigarette is lit; she's actively smoking); she looks haggard, tired, over caffeinated but delightedly smiling about something (I read in: about a clever remark she or someone else has made).

And, "Dragonfly," your bringing in Doris Day in connection with the Ilona portrait is one of those things I maybe wish I could forget. Yuk, Doris Day. Eesh. (I did like Marilyn but wouldn't think of her either in connection with the Ilona portrait, or pick her as a personal image of female beauty.)

Speaking of make-up, that issue takes me back to Allan Blumenthal's psychology classes. Allan approved of elaborate make-up and clothing and considered attention to such things "rational." In a last section of his psychology course, he'd discuss what we might learn about someone on first impression. He'd spend a large percentage of this discussion on clothes and make-up. And he'd ask, "If the purpose of make-up is to make a woman beautiful, what are we to think of someone who doesn't like make-up?" I didn't say, since I was being wary at that stage in how outspoken I was to Allan (later on...that changed), but I thought, "Maybe that make-up doesn't serve its supposed purpose?"

And speaking of The Russian Radical and the photos therein: If you have the book, look at the photos on pg. 119 and 120. 119 is a wedding photo of Barbara and Nathaniel; 120 is a group photo at the wedding party. Larry and I when we look at these photos say, "My God, they're young!" -- meaning Barbara and Nathaniel and Joan and Allan and Leonard, who looks like a mere kid. Also interesting, the photo shows Allan before he began wearing a wig; his hairline had obviously receded quite a bit already.

Ellen

PS: The photo I think the stamp is based on (not precisely; using what's known as "artistic license") is the oft-shown (in various contexts) photo which is used on the RoR homepage.

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PS(s):

It occurs to me to ask, Dragonfly -- this came to mind because your comment about no-make-up beauty led to the thought of the Scandinavian style and the thought that Scandinavia isn't that far from Holland: Do you happen to know Kirsti Minsaas? (She is a really interesting -- and also an attractive -- woman, I think.)

Second, re Marilyn Monroe: I'm confident that Rand wouldn't have selected the Marilyn type as her ideal type of feminine beauty. Instead, Greta Garbo. And the young Kathryn Hepburn (whom she mentioned somewhere as the type to play Dagny).

Ellen

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Ellen:

Some people have said she looks like a vampire in that, and maybe she does; but then maybe I like vampires ("Creatures of the night; such music they make." Bella Lagosi [sp?] as Count Dracula).

Well, to be honest, I find this photo rather embarrassing to look at. The impression I get is that of a girl who tries to look like a femme fatale, and pathetically fails at it. (BTW, it's Bela Lugosi).

-and a photo which appears on pg. 383 of AR:The Russian Radical.

I don't have the book, so I can't comment on that.

And speaking of The Russian Radical and the photos therein: If you have the book, look at the photos on pg. 119 and 120. 119 is a wedding photo of Barbara and Nathaniel; 120 is a group photo at the wedding party. Larry and I when we look at these photos say, "My God, they're young!" -- meaning Barbara and Nathaniel and Joan and Allan and Leonard, who looks like a mere kid. Also interesting, the photo shows Allan before he began wearing a wig; his hairline had obviously receded quite a bit already.

As I already mentioned, I don't have the book, I know only the wedding photos in the books by Nathaniel and Barabara respectively, and the group photo of the wedding of AB and JM. Here the grinning Peikoff is really comical!

PS: The photo I think the stamp is based on (not precisely; using what's known as "artistic license") is the oft-shown (in various contexts) photo which is used on the RoR homepage.

Hm... I can't find any photo on the RoR homepage...

It occurs to me to ask, Dragonfly -- this came to mind because your comment about no-make-up beauty led to the thought of the Scandinavian style and the thought that Scandinavia isn't that far from Holland: Do you happen to know Kirsti Minsaas? (She is a really interesting -- and also an attractive -- woman, I think.)

No, I don't know her. I could find only one photo of her, and that wasn't very clear.

Here is another Rand photo that I like (from Barbara's book):

ar5.jpg

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Dragonfly wrote:

Hm... I can't find any photo on the RoR homepage...

Maybe you have your settings so that you go direct to a page that members go to if they're logged in (and that bypasses the list

homepage).

I don't log in unless I'm intending to post, and I go to this URL when accessing the list:

http://rebirthofreason.com

Sorry to hear you don't have The Russian Radical, since that has a number of interesting (and historic, because of the occasions) photos.

The newest one you posted that you like of AR, I have to admit I'm lukewarm toward.

Also sorry to hear you've never met Kirsti. She's SO interesting a lecturer, I think.

(Thanks for the correction on Bela Lugosi.)

ES

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