Born in 1926 and a native New Yorker, Kinstler began his famed art career at age 16 drawing illustrations in comic books and paperbacks during the “Golden age” of comic book artists. After studying at the Art Students League in New York, Kinstler transitioned to portraiture and quickly became one of the most sought-after artists in the country.
Although Kinstler would continue to paint landscape and watercolor, portraiture remained his staple as esteemed clientele were eager to employ his extraordinary eye. Among the more than 1,200 portraits are figures such as Peter O’Toole, Paul Newman, John Wayne, John D. Rockefeller III, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and many more. In 1999, Kinstler received the Copley Medal from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, its highest honor.
Kinstler rendered portraits of more than 2,000 individuals — leaders in almost every professional field, including eight United States presidents.
“I cherish my time with him and my memories,” says Eric Rhoads. “He was the greatest storyteller of all, and his stories of artists whom he encountered in his 90+ years were amazing. He was a sweet, sweet man, and a brilliant artist. He will live on though his art, which hangs in the finest institutions in the world. Rest in peace my friend.”
“Ray Kinstler was not only a huge artistic talent, but also one of the art world’s most beloved figures — witty, welcoming, affectionate, and just plain fun,” said Peter Trippi. “He knew absolutely everyone (past/present, young/old, famous/obscure) and treated everyone the same because he was genuinely interested in who they were (the hallmark of great portraitists and of authentic human beings). Ray’s passing truly marks the end of an era in American art — he connected us with that time when illustrators were universally revered, and when gifted portraitists regularly captured the likenesses of America’s great and good. Yet he also thought a lot about the future of the field and went out of his way to mentor and encourage young talents of all descriptions. There is no question that Ray’s artworks will live on, and so too will his legacy of collegiality and concern for our country’s artistic community. I will miss him enormously.”
“It’s a sad week for us artists,” said Tony Pro. “[Ray] was a giant in the portrait art world and class act to boot. He awarded me first place at the Portrait Society of Atlanta show back in 2004. I was tremendously honored by that and he wrote me a personal letter which I still have and will always cherish. I loved seeing him at the Portrait Society of America show every year and he always remembered me.”
Pro added that his own father had taken a workshop from Kinstler in the late 80s, and twenty years later still remembered his student. “He was so sharp and such a gentleman all the time,” says Pro. “It’s evident from all the comments [about his passing] that he was a class act with anyone he came across. May his memory and art be forever Eternal!”
Kinstler was also dedicated to the operation and planning of the Portrait Society of America, which recently shared the following on their Facebook page:
“Many of you knew and admired Mr. Kinstler, his life as an artist is well known and recorded in both film and books. He attended every Portrait Society conference for the last 20 years and so many of you got to know him in a more personal way. One word describes Mr. Kinstler so well…dedication. He loved the organization that we have all built together over the past 21 years. He was still painting every day and in recent weeks he completed three portrait commissions, signing the last one only a few days before entering the hospital. His commissions totaled over 2,500 and spanned seven decades. Mr. Kinstler was also a gifted storyteller, both in paint and presentations. He could weave a story in such a manner that kept you on the edge of your seat as he transported you in words and thoughts through his many encounters with famous as well as everyday sitters.”