Artist Gardner Cox, who painted a controversial portrait of Henry Kissinger that was rejected by the State Department, has died at the age of 81. Cox, who died Thursday at Mt. Auburn Hospital, had been ill for several months.
An amiable, good-humored portraitist, Cox painted from life as he recorded the likenesses of government leaders, educators, poets, scholars, doctors, lawyers and businessmen.
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Cox was chosen to paint the official White House portrait of Kennedy. After months of attempts with unfamiliar photographs, Cox decided to cancel the commission.
Cox also painted a portrait of Henry Kissinger in 1978 after Kissinger stepped down as secretary of state. Kissinger did not like it, and it was returned to the artist by the State Department.
Cox had a distinctive, contemporary style of painting, with expressionistic overtones. He used free and fluent brushwork, subtle and warm colors to give his canvasses a feeling of spontaneity. He painted in oils, watercolors, tempera and acrylics.
Cox, a native of Holyoke, was the son of an artist mother and architect father. He attended Harvard but left after his junior year to study painting.
He is survived by his wife, Phyllis, two sons and a daughter.