Mario Cuomo’s Official Portrait Painted in Secret

ALBANY -
The portrait of former governor Mario Cuomo, which will hang in Albany. (Simmie Knox/New York Governor’s Office)
The portrait of former governor Mario Cuomo, which will hang in Albany. (Simmie Knox/New York Governor’s Office)

Former NewYork governor Mario Cuomo has long resisted an official portrait, even if that meant forgoing having his picture hanging in the statehouse alongside the 55 other men who served as the state’s highest executive.

So a group of friends hired an artist to create his portrait secretly, and it will be unveiled in a Capitol ceremony on June 15, the Democratic governor’s 81st birthday.

Cuomo’s son, the current governor, said that his father’s reluctance to sit for a painting stemmed from a distaste for drawing attention to himself.

“It was an act of vanity that he avoided,” Andrew Cuomo said.

Mario Cuomo himself said previously that he did not have the patience for a sitting, and he did not like the idea of looking at himself. So his friends enlisted Simmie Knox, an artist who did official White House portraits, to do what is second-best — draw from an existing picture.

Using photos provided by Cuomo’s longtime associates, Knox finished the oil painting in two weeks last year. It shows the elder Cuomo sitting with his legs crossed, in a dark suit with a red-striped tie, flanked by American and New York State flags.

“I’d always wanted to paint a portrait of him,” Knox said. “I said, ‘I’ll do it [based on] whatever you have, cartoons or whatever.’”

While the portrait was completed last year, Andrew Cuomo held off mounting it until after the Capitol’s renovation, which concluded in late 2012. Among the changes was opening to the public the Hall of Governors, which contains portraits of all governors except Mario Cuomo, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.

Cuomo, who served three terms as governor, briefly topped national surveys for the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. But it took him too long to make a decision, allowing others to vault over him.

Nineteen years after leaving office, Cuomo’s portrait will take its place alongside those of John Jay, Nelson Rockefeller and George Pataki.

“So much of what we do is intangible — bringing back integrity, bringing back pride. The physical restoration was a nice, tangible component,” the current governor said. “I did want the building finished, and sort of the last piece is, you hang the picture when it’s done.”