Maryland's former attorney general Francis B. (Bill) Burch came to the State House today to hang his official portrait, a life-size rendering that dwarfs the subdued oil paintings of the historic Maryland figures hanging alongside.
While the several-dozen friends and family members invited to the ceremony and champagne murmured flattering remaks, few failed to notice the contrast between Burch's broadly smiling portrait and the sober visages of Maryland's distant past.
"I told him, "You can't hang that picture in this room," said Jon F. Oster, Burch's deputy attorney general and longtime friend. "I said, 'this makes you look like a Hollywood lawyer.'"
One of Butch's sons, who also came to the restored committee room of the colonial-era State House for the portait-hanging, said the picture of Burch reminded him of "something out of the movie 'Blazing Saddles,'" the brash Western spoof directed by Mel Brooks.
One of Burch's daughters, on the other hand, said that her father's portrait actually resembled Liberace, the flamboyant pianist.
The movieland comparison were not inappropriate. Alongside Burch at the celebration was the artist, Ralph Wolfe Cowan, who had earlier notice for painting the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra.
Cowan, who has had art studios in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, explained that he normally prefers show business subjects to public officials.
"I'm nervous with anybody in politics," said Cowan, who has nevertheless painted such political figures as presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy. "Everything is official, official. I had to insist that he smile."
Accompanied by his brother, who handed out biographies describing cowan as an artist who has "painted some of the world's most beautiful and interesting people," the painter said he decided to take the Burch assignment so that he could "get better known in this area."
Burch, a Democrat and three-term Maryland attorney general who retired from politics last year after an unsuccessful run for governor, said he dicided to commission Cowan -- the state paid $2,500 for the portrait -- because he was "impressed with the artist's style."
Once he chose Cowan, he said, the two men quietly toured the State House, looking at other portraits on the marble wals. "We were looking for ideas," Burch said. "All these people look dead."
The 4 1/2-foot by 5 1/2-foot portrait shows Burch dressed in a three-piece tapered suit, smiling broadly, his right hand clutching the Maryland Charter. Over his left ear is the symbol of justice, a bronzed woman holding the scales of justice.
Burch is cast in the portrait against a dramatic deep blue sky, covered with reddish clouds. According to the artist, he is supposed to be standing on an island near the point in the Potomac River where Maryland and Virginia meet.
In the end, Burch said he was quite pleased with Cowan's results. "I see it (portrait) as a person with warmth and strength. It's picture of a vibrant person, not a person over the hill."