William A. Haseltine  born 1944

Eric Fischl (born 1948)
Oil on canvas, 1998

Private collection

Eric Fischl made his mark in the competitive New York art world in the early 1980s by challenging the avant-garde’s proscription against figurative painting that was intensely personal and strongly narrative. Known for his disquieting paintings of family psychodramas, Fischl had not depicted individuals other than his own relatives until William Haseltine approached him. Fischl found his first commissioned portrait to be a provocative challenge, and within the next year he had completed likenesses of other friends, among them actor Steve Martin and director Mike Nichols.

A molecular biologist, Haseltine left an academic career to establish Human Genome Sciences in 1992, remaining CEO until 2004. He sat for Fischl in his New York studio, where the artist made sketches and took photographs. For his composition, Fischl digitally juxtaposed the image of the sitter with a somewhat abstract representation of a classical torso, similar to sculptures Fischl was working on at the time.