Philip Pearlstein's intriguing portrait of Ray Lorenzo Heffner depicts a sad, almost anguished figure. Brown University's thirteenth president, Heffner succeeded the popular Barnaby Kenney in 1966, just as waves of student protest were buffeting college campuses across America. An Elizabethan scholar by training, Heffner was vice president and dean of the faculties at Indiana University when he was offered the presidency of Brown. For the next three years he grappled with student unrest, a diminishing endowment, and the tumult of leading a university through the tectonic shifts a wholly new era in American higher education. During his tenure as president he oversaw the appointment of the first woman, the first African American, and the first Jew to the position of Brown Corporation fellow. However, in 1969, when the faculty concluded a year's exhaustive deliberations by adopting a new curriculum that abolished distribution requirements and made letter grades optional, Heffner submitted his resignation. Though he had served well in difficult times, he said, in what became an oft-quoted statement, "I have simply reached the conclusion that I do not enjoy being a University president."
Upon Heffner's departure in 1969, the Brown corporation commissioned a presidential portrait. With the encouragement (and anonymous benefaction) of secretary of the corporation John Nicholas Brown, the corporation awarded the portrait commission to the American contemporary Realist painter Philip Pearlstein (b. 1924). In his portrait Pearlstein pictures Heffner wearing the university's ceremonial golden chain and pendant over the presidential robe recently designed by Mrs. Brown, against a background of raised paneling in the president's office in University Hall. Pearlstein's elevated perspective, which emphasizes Heffner's head and its dramatic shadow, and the detailed treatment of his subject's hands, conveys the intensity of his short, troubled presidency.
When the new portrait was unveiled it was hung in the Graduate Center, which, constructed during Heffner's tenure as president, was the newest building on campus. In 1974 the university lent the painting to a special exhibition of contemporary portraits by American painters at the University of Miami's Lowe Art Museum.
Created by: Linda Mac
Record added: May 29, 2011
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