Tag Archives: Elvis art

Elvis in The Smithsonian

This is a post from 2009. It is one of the more serious efforts I have produced for ElvisBlog.   Hopefully, you will find it interesting to read as we continue to shelter-at-home.

 

Did you know you could find Elvis in the Smithsonian Institution?  You can, if you check out the National Portrait Gallery’s “Bravo” exhibition.  Here’s a group of Smithsonian visitors looking at the oil painting of Elvis that hangs there.

As with just about everything else involving Elvis, this brings up an interesting story.  The artist who painted the Elvis portrait is Ralph Wolfe Cowan, who, according to several websites, is considered the number one portrait painter in the world.  He has been recognized for painting more reigning monarchs and world leaders than any other painter in history.  His work includes portraits of four US Presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Reagan.  So, the stature of the artist certainly had a lot to do with the National Portrait Gallery selecting this particular painting.

However, this is not the first painting Ralph Wolfe Cowan did of Elvis.  Back in 1962, Mr. Cowan was selected to open the first portrait-painting studio at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  Elvis was staying nearby at the Aladdin Hotel when he learned about the studio.  He sought out Mr. Cowan and commissioned a portrait at a cost of $10,000.  (Editor’s note: $85,000 in today’s money) Mr. Cowan started sketching on a 48-inch round canvas the very first night.

However, Elvis was very impressed with the album cover titled Heavenly that Cowan had created for Johnny Mathis.  Elvis decided he wanted a similar full-length portrait of himself and asked Mr. Cowan to start over.

The result was a painting that is now familiar to all Elvis fans.  Elvis loved it.  According to Mr. Cowan, “Elvis came by and personally carried the four-foot by seven-foot painting across the street to his room at the Aladdin.” 

This painting now embellishes the main wall at the Graceland Trophy Room.  The prominent gold hue of the portrait is a great compliment to the display of hundreds of Elvis’ gold records.  Mr. Cowan’s full-length masterpiece was the only portrait Elvis ever allowed to hang in Graceland.  Over the years, Priscilla and others would refer to the painting as “Heavenly Elvis.”  Here’s an interesting piece of trivia:  During the 1999 Archives of Graceland auction of Elvis memorabilia at the MGM Grand, somebody paid $3,500 for the check that Elvis wrote to pay for the painting.

Mr. Cowan astutely saved his original round sketch.  He has said, “After Elvis died…I was able to restore and repair the circular Elvis portrait.  As you can see, I added the red shirt and blue sky to make it different from the Graceland painting… I’ve heard from clients who have seen the portrait hanging in the National Portrait Gallery that it gets great attention.”  Mr. Cowan has referred to this painting as “Loving Elvis.”

In 1969, Ralph Wolfe Cowan created a third Elvis painting he titled “Coming Home Elvis.”   It was also part of the Archives of Graceland auction and sold for $45,000.

 

Mr. Cowan has painted at least three other Elvis portraits, and they are now offered at the upcoming The Elvis Presley Collection presented by the auction firm Gotta-Have-Rock-and-Roll on March 16-25.  All have a minimum bid of $25,000 and are projected to bring $35-45,000.  There is “Praying Elvis” depicting him in the famous American Eagle jumpsuit.

 

Also “Hound Dog Christmas” where Elvis is in a Santa suit and holds a hound dog puppy.

 

Certainly the most unusual Ralph Wolfe Cowan portrait of Elvis is “Elvis Presley Pink Cadillac.”  The painting is framed by an actual car door painted pink.

 

So, check out www.gottahaverockandroll.com and put in your bid on an Elvis painting by the number one portrait painter in the world.  Or, if you don’t have $45,000 to spare, go to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian and see one there.

©  2009    Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister    All Rights Reserved 

 

Footnote # 1:  I was curious to see if Elvis’ portrait still hangs in the Bravo Exhibition at the Smithsonian.  Yes, it does.

View of the Bravo exhibition

 

Footnote #2:  The “Elvis in a Pink Cadillac” did not sell at the 2009 auction.  No one thought it was worth the $25,000 minimum bid. It showed up for auction again in 2012, this time called “Cruising Elvis,” perhaps because it was revealed the door actually came from a Ford Falcon. It had a minimum bid of $2,000. I think they could have sold it for more by offering just the painting and ditching the stupid pink car door.

What do you think?

Elvis Pseudo-Stamps with Bonus Artwork

Not many Elvis stamps from foreign countries have featured a picture of Elvis this cool. This looks like it could be real with a country of origin (Republic of Central Africa) and a postage amount. But it’s not. It’s made of embossed 24kt gold making it impractical use in mailing an envelope. So, they are offered not as stamps but as “tributes” in a 1995 brochure promoting them.

 

 

I found this flyer in the Elvis stuff I’ve been saving for decades. Here’s the picture from the brochure containing the pseudo-stamp.

 

 

The combinations of the tributes and the Elvis artwork on the backing cardboard are referred to as “issues”. There are six of them in this set. Here is the art on this one blown up.

Elvis appears to be wearing his famous white suit from the ’68 Comeback Special. There’s a big jukebox behind him and a bunch of 45s floating around leaving trails of smoke behind. There’s a lot other stuff in there, but I can’t make out what any of it is. I guess it is all intended to look groovy, in late-60s lingo.

 

Here are the rest of the issues.

 

 

Let’s take a look at that “highly detailed, intricate embossing” close up.

Look close and you can see three Elvis images. There’s the big head shot in color, plus in the embossed part, there is Elvis’ body with the mike up to his mouth, and a larger frontal face. They weren’t kidding about that “highly detailed, intricate embossing.”

 

I love the big Elvis face dominating this one, but I’m unclear what the drag racer car or the Saturn rocket relate to.

 

The embossed image on this one is simpler and easy to make-out

 

 

The accompanying text says this issue features five images from three Elvis movies. Well, the two on the stamp are clearly identified as from “Easy Come, Easy Go.”

 

The artwork shows “G.I. Blues” Elvis wearing the helmet. “Spinout” is nicely represented by the other two. Overall, I like this image a lot..

 

I’ve shown these last two issues in the same sequence they appear in the brochure. I guess that both being from Mali makes them companion issues. Or maybe it’s the repetition of the five picture/three movie theme.

 

I’m glad the stamp identifies the two Elvis images are from “Girls, Girls, Girls,” because I might not have figured it out.

 

This is not one of my favorites in this set, mainly because of the blue Elvis on the right. I don’t know if that is supposed to be from “Viva Las Vegas” or “Tickle Me.” The other two are easy to place.

 

 

I can’t see the connection to “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold.” The jalopy looks similar to the one in the movie “Loving You.”

 

This is the second stamp from the Republic of Central Africa. I never heard of this country, so I looked it up.

 

Well, the name certainly fits the location.

 

This would be my least favorite artwork in the set. It would be better with more Elvis and less hot rod.

 

 

They should have left off the chin cleft, because Elvis never had one.

 

Wow, could you cram any more American Pop Culture into one picture than they did here? Besides Elvis, there is popcorn, a hot dog, soft ice cream, big red tail fins, and stacks of 45s. I’m not sure I get the inclusion of a bottle of champagne or the bird on the right. What is that just below the popcorn? Looks like a mushroom. ?????

 

The price on the full set was $68 back in 1995. I never bought it, but now I kind of wish I had. These stamps with bonus artwork just might be worth something today. It seems to me that this original Elvis art could have been utilized in other ways for us fans to enjoy.

 

 

© 2019 Philip R Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister All Rights Reserved www.ElvisBlog.net

 

 

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