Charles Lindbergh became an international idol in 1927 when he flew his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, from New York to Paris. In 1932, the public shared in his grief when his baby son was kidnapped and murdered.
In 1938, when Robert Brackman painted portraits of Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, they were one of the most beloved couples in America. That changed a few years later, when both Lindberghs expressed sympathy for Adolf Hitler.
As their reputations dwindled, Brackman's rose. The well-timed portrait commission established Brackman as one of the most sought-after portrait painters in the country. He took commissions from Rockefellers, military leaders, politicians and Hollywood. (The portrait of Jennie in the 1948 movie "Portrait of Jennie" is by Brackman.)
An exhibit at Mystic Museum of Art honors Brackman with 19 of his works, 10 of them portraits, the rest still lifes and nude studies. Brackman, who lived in Noank and died in New London in 1980 at age 81, was president of the board of the Mystic Art Association.
Brackman was born in Ukraine and emigrated to New York City as a child. He studied with George Bellows and Robert Henri. Brackman's work shows the influence of those Ashcan School greats in his subdued, dark palettes, but rather than focusing on gritty urban realities Brackman excelled with his depictions of faces and gently draped cloth.
The Lindbergh portraits dominate the small Otto E. Liebig Gallery, like a wedding couple at the head table. On another wall is an elegant portrait of Brackman's wife Francis, painted in 1937. She gives the portrait a classical feel by wearing a 19th-century style maroon dress. Brackman plays with the gold vertical stripes on the dress, highlighting each with varying degrees of light. Francis clutches her skirt in her hand, as if to give her husband another draping cloth to paint.
A 1945 portrait of Brackman's identically dressed young daughters Cecelia and Roberta is charming. One looks at her daddy with her head cocked to the side, as if wondering what this portrait painting is all about. The other has discarded her doll on the floor.
The family portraits hang across the gallery from a portrait of Philip Rogers Mallory, the founder of Duracell International and president of the Mystic Seaport Museum; Winslow Ames, the first director of New London's Lyman Allyn Art Museum; and Brackman himself.
ROBERT BRACKMAN: THINKING IN COLOR is at Mystic Museum of Art, 9 Water St. in Stonington, until Sept. 23. mysticmuseumofart.org.