John Howard Sanden

photo of John Howard  Sanden

"The portrait masters captured the dignity and pageantry of life, which they achieved with breathtaking subtlety of execution. Their people were 'real'. However, the portrait giants worked with the greatest economy of means, presenting us with another lesson – simplicity is almost always best."

- John Howard Sanden

John Howard Sanden has been one of the nation's leading portrait artists for more than four decades. Over his illustrious career he has painted more than 350 portraits of figures in government, business, education, and the professions. He has written five books on portrait painting, and he lectured on portraiture for 25 years at The Art Students League of New York.

In 1994, Sanden received the John Singer Sargent Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Society of Portrait artists, and in 2005 he received the Founders' Gold Medal from the Portrait Society of America. His official portraits of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were unveiled at the White House on May 31, 2012. 

The critical year in Sanden's personal career was 1969, the year he decided to leave the Midwest and a long career as art director for the Rev. Billy Graham, to try his hand at New York City and the world of portrait painting. Within months of arriving in New York, he was appointed to the teaching faculty of The Art Students League, became affiliated with the city's principal portrait brokerage, and established a nationwide portrait clientele of the famous, wealthy, and influential.

Sanden then dove into an ambitious teaching career. He founded the Portrait Institute in 1974 and began touring the nation, teaching his ideas and techniques to the thousands who came to hear him in classes as large as 700 at a time. Those who could not come in person studied through one of the national correspondence instructional programs he created.

In 1979, Sanden launched the National Portrait Seminar, which grew to be-at that time-the largest art seminar program in America. The Seminar pioneered the large-scale artists' conference which is now common across the nation. Through his Portrait Institute (books and video teaching products) John has influenced more than 80,000 artists around the world. In 1994 Houghton College awarded John Howard Sanden the Doctor of Fine Arts degree (honoris causa).

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Selected Commissions & Collections

  • Official White House Portraits of George W. Bush and Laura W. Bush
  • John Ashcroft, 79th Attorney General of the United States
  • Clark M. Clifford, United States Secretary of Defense
  • Paul H. O'Neill, United States Secretary of the Treasury
  • Robert C. Byrd, United States Senator from West Virginia
  • James B. Hunt, Jr., Governor of North Carolina
  • Dr. James Fletcher, NASA Administrator
  • His Majesty the Alafin of Oyo, Nigeria
  • Maurice R. Greenberg, Benefactor, Columbia University Medical Center
  • Herbert Irving, Benefactor, Columbia University Medical Center
  • Elaine and Kenneth Langone, Benefactors, New York University Langone Medical Center
  • Sandra and Edward Meyer, Benefactors, Weill Cornell Medical College
  • David Rockefeller, Chairman, Chase Manhattan Bank
  • Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, The Duke Endowment
  • Julius Silver, Benefactor, New York University
  • Annette Caldwell Simmons, Benefactor, Southern Methodist University
  • Laurence A. Tisch, Chairman, Board of Trustees, New York University
  • Sanford I. Weill, Chairman, Board of Trustees and Benefactor, Carnegie Hall
  • Dr. Philip E. Austin, President, The University of Connecticut
  • Dr. Kim B. Clark, Dean, Harvard Business School
  • Dr. Donald F. Hornig, President, Brown University
  • Dr. Jay Owen Light, Dean, Harvard Business School
  • Dr. L. Jay Oliva, President, New York University
  • Dr. Herbert Holden Thorp, Chancellor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The Reverend Dr. Billy Graham, Evangelist/author
  • The Reverend Dr. W. Frank Harrington, Senior Minister, Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA
  • Dr. Antonio M. Gotto Jr., Dean, Weill Cornell Medical
  • William B. Harrison Jr., CEO, J. P. Morgan Chase
  • Sanford I. Weill, Chairman, Citigroup

Honors & Awards

Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Achievement, The Portrait Society of America, 2010

John Singer Sargent Medal for Lifetime Achievement, The American Society of Portrait Artists, 1994 (First Recipient)

Lifetime Achievement Award, Portrait Brokers of America (now Portraits, Incorporated), 2005

Hudson Valley Art Association Certificate of Honor for Outstanding Achievement, 2005

Doctor of Fine Arts Degree (Honoris Causa) from Houghton College, 1994