Laura Wheeler Waring
Oil on canvas, 1944
National Portrait Gallery
"A great artist, a great woman and a great citizen. Her incomparable talent, her beauty, and magnificent dignity have endeared her to the music loving world. When she sings it's not only the voice of her race one hears but the voice of America."
-Cornelia Otis Skinner
Arturo Toscanini claimed that contralto Marian Anderson had a voice that came along once in a hundred years. When one of her music teachers first heard her sing, the richness of her talent moved him to tears. But because Anderson was black, her prospects as a concert singer in this country were limited, and she experienced most of her early professional triumphs in Europe. Eventually, however, the magnitude of her talent won her broad recognition in the United States as well, and when she began touring regularly in this country in 1935, she was quickly acknowledged to be the world's greatest contralto. By the time Anderson retired in the mid-1960s, she was regarded as a national treasure.
Laura Wheeler Waring first saw Anderson on stage on April 16, 1916, during one of her European concert tours. Waring's great desire to have Anderson sit for her became a reality when in 1944 she spent the summer painting Anderson's regal figure at her farm.
Anderson's pose reflects the calm and graceful stance of a seasoned singer patiently waiting for the applause to die down before bursting forth into song. Behind Anderson is a window framing a landscape with three crosses, symbolizing the death of Christ on Calvary.