“Who haven’t I painted,” painter Ralph Wolfe Cowan always responds with a chuckle.
Such a statement would seem pretentious coming from nearly any other artist, but Cowan is acclaimed as the greatest American portrait painter of the 20th century.
Cowan has painted the crowned heads of Europe, the legends of stage and screen, and three U.S. Presidents, but traces his long career back to his earliest years in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he first picked up a brush at the age of four. By the time he turned 16, Cowan moved to New York to make his mark as an artist. After a stint in the Army, he wound up in California, determined to paint the movie stars he adored as a child at Saturday matinees.
Soon, Hollywood starlets lined up, including Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Grace Kelly. He would go on to paint a landmark portrait of Princess Grace of Monaco that is considered a national treasure, and later immortalized Princess Diana, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Frank Sinatra, Elvis and even Madonna.
For the past 30 years, Cowan has called West Palm Beach home, but he still travels the world when the rich and famous beckon.