Landing at Saipan by William Draper.
William Draper, 90; noted portrait painter, Navy artist
By Edgar J. Driscoll, Jr.
painters and an official combat artist for the US Navy during World War II. Mr. Draper, 90, a New
Yorker, died Oct. 26 of heart failure.
A native of Hopedale, Mass., he painted various notables during his long and distinguished career,
including Presidents Kennedy and Nixon and the Shah of Iran.
Many of his freely brushed and textured canvases can be found on the walls of Harvard University,
including a portrait of former Harvard president Nathan Pusey. He also painted Dr. Charles Mayo of
the Mayo Clinic, author James Michener, New York Archbishop Cardinal Terence Cooke, and New
York Mayor John Lindsay, among others.
"Portraits are always a challenge. It's like a puzzle," the artist once said.
Paul E. Curran, a friend of 20 years, said a Draper portrait was a "five day affair," begun on Monday
and wrapped up Friday afternoon. Before he finished, he always got an objective opinion of the piece
from someone who knew his subject. "He'd get an opinion of how well he portrayed the individual,"
An artistic descendant of John Singer Sargent, who once described a portrait as a painting with
"something a little wrong with the mouth," Mr. Draper had and expressive style that was very much his
own. He had his troubles with the mouth too. "The trick," he said, "is not to paint the mouth in much
Mr. Draper was born in Hopedale on Dec. 14, 1912, the son of Clare H. Draper and Mathilda G.
(Engman) Draper. He was a graduate of the Pomfret School and attended Harvard College, where he
was a member of the class of 1935.
He left college at the end of his sophomore year to study painting at the National Academy of Design
for two years. The he studied for a year in Paris and Spain before returning to this country to study
sculpture with George Demetrios in Boston. He also painted with Henry Hensche in Provincetown for
three summers and with John Corbino in Rockport.
During World War II, Mr. Draper was an official combat artist for the Navy, starting as a lieutenant
junior grade and finishing as a lieutenant commander. His assignments took him from the Aleutian
Islands through the southwest Pacific, where his pencil, pen, and brush recorded the invasion of
Bougainville and the landings of the Marines at Saipan and Guam. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
Before returning to civilian life, and his Park Avenue studio where he continued to paint for much of the
rest of his life, he painted portraits of, among others, Admirals Nimitz and Halsey and completed
murals for the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. The war paintings were reproduced in four issues of
National Geographic magazine and were exhibited in leading cities throughout the country and
For many years Mr. Draper showed at the Vose Galleries on Dartmouth Street, as well as at leading
galleries in New York. Many of his portraits are in Boston private collections. His work was also
included in group shows at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the
Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the National gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the
National Academy of Design.
He was also known for his limericks and jokes, family and friends said. "He was wildly fun and an
eccentric character," said his daughter Margaret Draper of Arcata, Calif.
He bred orchids for fun, eo-founded the American Goldfish Society, and dug a fishpond in his
backyard to display his collection," she said.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Draper leaves a son, William, of Carbondale, Colo.; a sister, Lilla
Scharnberg of Needham; and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter Francesca.
The service will be held at the Century Club in New York.
The Boston Globe, November 13, 2003
William Draper, 90, Painter Who Portrayed Presidents
By Ken Johnson
William F. Draper, a portrait painter and former combat artist who depicted many of the world's
wealthiest and most powerful, died at his home in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 90.
In Mr. Draper's five decade career, his subjects included President Richard M. Nixon, Mayor John V.
Lindsay of New York, the Shah of Iran, the financier Paul Mellon, Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic,
Terence Cardinal Cooke, the actress Celeste Holm and the New York socialite and jazz harpist
Daphne Hellman. A portrait he did of John F. Kennedy, based on an oil sketch for which the president
sat in 1962, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
William Franklin Draper was born in Hopedale, Mass, on Dec. 24, 1912. He studied at Harvard and
the National Academy of Design in New York. After joining the Navy in 1942, he served in the South
Pacific as a combat artist. An expert illustrator, he worked in oils, painting battle scenes that he
observed on Bougainville, Guam, Saipan and elsewhere, as well as noncombat images of soldiers
at work and at play.
In 1944 National Geographic reproduced 69 of his war images in four issues. In 1945 the Corcoran
Gallery of Art in Washington organized an exhibition of works by five official war artists, including Mr.
Draper, and in the same year the Metropolitan Museum included him in a show called, "The War
During the war, Mr. Draper was also commissioned to paint portraits of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and
Adm. William F. Halsey. By the time he left the Navy in 1945, he was a lieutenant Commander and
had earned a Bronze Star.
In May 2000 he was featured in a PBS television special on combat artists called "They Drew Fire."
After the war, Mr. Draper established a studio on Park Avenue and began his career in portraiture.
Trained as a pianist before he turned to art, he played classical music as well as jazz.
In 1999 he received the Portrait Society of America's gold medal, its highest honor.
Mr. Draper was divorced from his wife, Barbara, in the 1970s. He is survived by his children, William
of Carbondale, Colo., and Margaret, of Arcata, Calif., and five grandchildren. Another daughter,
Francesca, died in 1986. The New York Times, November 1, 2003
I don't have the date but in late 2003 or early 2004 The Milford Daily News printed a story on the life
of William Draper. One thing in it struck me as rather strange. It said that he went to anti-submarine
warfare school and then was assigned to a submarine. It went on at some length about his
adapatation to life on subs and eventual decision to become a combat artist. I had intended to add
the story to this site when I began reading it, but by the time I finished I decided it would be a good
idea to check it out before doing that. It didn't make sense to me that he would complete anti-
submarine warfare school and then be assigned to the Submarine Service. Not that life in the service
always makes sense but I thought I'd better look into it. I called Paul Curren who had been thinking
the same thing about the article. He contacted the National Personnel Records Center about the
matter and received this reply, dated May 10, 2004.
Dear Mr. Curran:
In response to your questions regarding the navy service of William F. Draper, I reviewed his record
and am pleased to provide the following public information.
1. Mr. Draper was commissioned May 27, 1942.
2. Duty assignments:
a. There is no indication that he performed duty in the Submarine Service.
b. Naval Training Station, Harvard University, July 1-6, 1942.
c. Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Unit, Atlantic Fleet, Boston, July 6 - August 31, "engaged in the
preparation of drawings, sketches, etc. relating to anti-submarine warfare."
d. Navy Department Office of Public Relations in Washington, September 5, 1942 - March 31,
e. Temporary additional duty in New York to begin on or about September 14, but the duration is
not shown in his record.
f. Temporary additional duty afloat, Alaskan Sector, October 9, 1942, as combat artist..
3. Except that they are listed on Mr. Draper's report of separation, neither USS Arthur Middleton nor
USS George Clymer is mentioned in his service record.
I enjoyed speaking with you and subsequently learning about Mr. Draper, including the opportunity to
view many of his military drawings at the Naval History Center Website. While I am hopeful that the
above text satisfies your curiosity about Mr. Draper's Navy service, if there is information that you
would like to receive in addition to the public information in this response, you may request it if you
can provide written and signed authorization from his next of kin.
Extensive interview with William Draper, done in 1977
For more on Draper's Navy years and to see some of his pictures, click here.
Draper Tombs, Hopedale Village Cemetery Draper Menu HOME
William F. Draper...Here's a little photo of his residence in N.Y. at 160 East,
83rd Street. Looks empty at the time it was taken, but two admirers standing
back on the pavement., ( footpath here ) - the number just above the door, plus
out of view is a small penthouse built on top with two windows looking out to
the street. It's between 3rd Avenue and Lexington Avenue - a short street in
what was a posh area as it does have some excellent architecture on both
sides. Its a No Honking zone - $350 Penalty.
Edith Draper Blair. Edith was William's aunt, and the daughter of Gen. William and Lilla
Draper. Click here to go the the page on the AskArt site.
William Franklin Draper
Margaret Draper (08/05/2005)
My father, William F. Draper, was a painter of landscapes as well as portraits. He traveled
widely, painting scenes almost everywhere he went. He used to tell a great story about
learning to paint from Henry Henche in Provincetown in the early 1930s. Dad had provided his
teacher with a second version of the assigned painting exercise, and Henche snapped "This
isn't a drawing class, Draper. I wanted a painting!" Dad loved the irony of this comment from
Henche, because Dad's world was about color. To watch him paint, you could see him going
at it like a sculpture, carving away at the subject with color. He used to tell me that he
remembered people's names by the colors of the letters.