Anna Wintour‘s tough-as-nails persona is not what Alex Katz had in mind when he asked to paint her portrait. “To me she is the pretty girl I met 20 years ago,” when she had just become editor of Vogue, Katz said in a phone interview from Timothy Taylor Gallery in London. To capture that woman, as opposed to the icon, he insisted that Wintour pose without her sunglasses—what she calls her “armor.” Wintour—who, as Katz had seen in the documentary film The September Issue, rarely cedes control of visual decisions—agreed. “Her sunglasses were sort of an obvious part of her public image,” Katz says. “It seemed more interesting to paint what she really looks like.”
The portrait reveals “her lovely eyes,” Katz says, her signature bob, and just a peek of her light blue Chanel suit. Katz, who has painted designer clothes for W magazine and modeled in the J. Crew catalogue, had the sense to let Wintour pick her own clothes. “She was self-conscious about that,” Katz says.
The artist painted Wintour in the format he has used for his recent portraits: on a 5-by-7-foot canvas, with strong frontal light and a yellow background. “There’s no modeling on the face, not a lot of information. It gives you a very aggressive image,” Katz notes. “He used a lot of color, which I adore,” Wintour says.
The painting, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, will receive its first viewing there in “Alex Katz Portraits,” an exhibition of works from throughout the artist’s career, up from May 15 through September 21.