The distinguished career of U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine spanned fifteen years, from his appointment in May 1980 until he retired from the Senate in 1995. He served six years as Democratic leader starting in 1989 and was instrumental in passing legislation to protect the environment, help low-income Americans secure child care and affordable housing, extend civil rights protection to the disabled, and open world markets to trade.
For his portrait, Senator Mitchell selected artist Alan Magee from his home state of Maine. Noted for still lifes of meticulously rendered objects, Magee was an unconventional choice for an artist. His portrait of Mitchell was a resounding success. The artist depicts the senator standing in his trademark pose, directing an assured gaze at the viewer. The sparse background allows the many exquisitely painted surfaces to inform the viewer about the sitter, such as the detailed topography of the senator’s face, the lifelike quality of his brown eyes, and the polished patina of the mahogany Senate desk used by Mitchell in the chamber.
Mitchell sat for the artist a number of times at his studio in Maine, and the concept for the portrait developed easily from the resulting initial sketches. Magee said of this work, “The portrait’s direct and symmetrical design seemed the best way to convey the direct qualities of the man.”
Artist Alan Magee studied at the Tyler School of Art and the Philadelphia College of Art. He practiced editorial and book illustration for more than a decade before devoting himself exclusively to painting. A highly accomplished realist artist, Magee’s works are represented in private and corporate collections, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
George Mitchell became familiar with the workings of the U.S. Senate in the 1960s, when he served as executive assistant to Democratic senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. In 1980, when Muskie resigned to become secretary of state, Mitchell was appointed to fill the vacancy. As a senator, he became a leading figure for the Democratic Party, and was credited with helping his party win back the majority in the Senate in 1986. Senator Mitchell was elected majority leader in 1989, a position he held until his retirement from the Senate in 1995. He was known among his colleagues in the Senate as an honest leader and skillful legislative strategist. After leaving the Senate, Mitchell was instrumental in negotiating a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Senator Mitchell returned to the Senate in 1999 to participate in the Leader's Lecture Series.