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Gardner Cox, 22 Jan 1906 - 14 Jan 1988
Robert Francis Kennedy, 20 Nov 1925 - 6 Jun 1968
Oil on canvas
Stretcher: 78.1 x 61cm (30 3/4 x 24")
Frame: 105.4 x 88.9 x 8.9cm (41 1/2 x 35 x 3 1/2")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist
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National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Born Brookline, Massachusetts
Bobby Kennedy, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot and killed by assassin Sirhan Sirhan on June 5, 1968, after winning the California primary. This tragically ended one of the most interesting political careers in modern American history. Coming only months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Kennedy's killing plunged an already dismal year of violence and confrontation into further darkness. The younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, Robert served as his attorney general and was then elected senator from New York. Kennedy entered the 1968 presidential race in opposition to the Johnson administration's Vietnam policy and as a progressive voice on urban and racial issues.
Gardner Cox began this portrait, a commission from the Department of Justice, in February 1968 but finished it after the assassination. A muted, reflective, and melancholy image-at odds with Cox's usual style-it was rejected as too informal.