Howard Chandler Christy was the antithesis of the starving artist. First, in the late 19th century he quit art school and became an immediate success as an illustrator. Then, 25 years later, he was famous and wealthy enough to turn back to formal painting and was for the next three decades one of the world's foremost portrait painters.

An exhibit opening Friday at the National Portrait Gallery covers the first career, focusing on his "Christy Girl," the successor to the "Gibson Girl" as the idealized American woman. Christy described her as having "pink cheeks, clear eyes, white teeth, firm slenderness, glossy hair, animation . . ." He added, "As an artist, I personally admire grace and proportion above all."

The epitome of all these qualities was 16-year-old Nancy May Palmer, sent to Christy by Charles Dana Gibson in 1912, and she was his only model for the next seven years until he turned to portraiture in 1919, and married her.

The exhibit also includes some of Christy's battle sketches done in Cuba for Leslie's Weekly during the Spanish-American War, plus his illustrations for Sir Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake," which Christy thought his best work. The show runs through August 3.