In honour of Tony Bennett's 91st birthday this week (August 3), we look back at our January 2012 cover story featuring the legendary crooner.
Tony Bennett's New York condominium is nestled high in the Trump Park Tower on Central Park South. The uninterrupted expanse of his implausibly wide living room window affords a magnificent view of the park far below, which even on this clear mid-September day stretches northwards farther than the eye can see. Given that the iconic American crooner paints very nearly as well as he sings, it is unsurprising that when prodded to comment on it, he frames his answer in terms of what it inspires in his painting rather than his singing.
"It's everything to me," Bennett volunteers of the vista. "To have a view on Central Park and watch the four seasons and the great vastness of the sky—it changes every day. Rembrandt said it, 'There's only one master—that's nature.' It gives me unbelievable subjects to study and paint."
In 2006, Bennett's oil-on-canvas "Central Park" was accepted into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. It is one of three of his paintings to be housed in a Smithsonian collection. His portrait of Ella Fitzgerald was acquired by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, and another, of Duke Ellington, hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery—"Beside Obama's," Bennett pointed out to me, smiling broadly, when he showed me a small facsimile of the Ellington portrait that hangs in his foyer shortly after welcoming me to his apartment, a personal rendezvous for which he dressed just as he would for the public stage: a tailored navy blue suit, a powder blue shirt and a red silk necktie.
Another of Bennett's painted tributes to a different old friend, "Homage to Hockney," is on permanent display at the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, Ohio. And the relevance of this last fact is that Bennett has invited me to sit down with him and conduct his interview on his living room sofa, immediately beneath a large canvas that I can only take to be David Hockney's reciprocal homage to Bennett. It is primarily an ocean view but, in the foreground, in one corner you find a small dog; in the other, tossed on the floor, a folded newspaper, with Bennett's picture on its front page.
"Hockney put me in one of his experiments," Bennett began when pressed for explanation and then paused, chuckling. "He painted that about 30 years ago, in Malibu, where he has a home. That was his favourite dog. That's the Los Angeles Times. And the ocean, which he always painted there, different ways."
Next: Mementos in Bennett's apartment
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