Leon Fleisher (born 1928)

painting of a man playing piano
Leon Fleisher,  born 1928 | Born San Francisco,  California |  Paul Wyse (born 1970)  |  Oil on linen, 2009  |  Gift of the artist

Leon Fleisher carved out a brilliant concert and recording career before his right hand became disabled in 1965. Thereafter, he concentrated on the left-hand repertory and also established a successful conducting career. Fleisher joined the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1959 and later held the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in piano. In 1985 he became artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Center. Ten years later, Fleisher regained the use of his right hand and now plays a limited repertoire of bimanual works and continues to perform works for the left hand.

Canadian Portraitist and classically trained concert pianist, Paul Wyse observed Fleisher conducting the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra of New York in rehearsal while sitting amid the orchestra. The resulting sketches formed the basis for this painting. Although Wyse has received acclaim for both his musical and artistic ability, he did not begin painting until he was thirty years old. Wyse is inspired by artist John Singer Sargent who was also a musician and artist.

  • Describe the setting you see. Where is this portrait taking place? How do you know?
  • As the viewer, where are you in the portrait? Explain.
  • Think like an artist. What are the similarities and differences to performing music and painting a portrait?
  • If this portrait were to come to life before our eyes, what happened just before? And what will happen next? Why do you think so?