Chicago artist and political activist Gregory Thornton (1926 - 2000) completed this painting shortly after the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, basing this piece on a similar painting he had done in memory of President Kennedy in the mid-1960s (that one depicting John, Robert and Ted Kennedy in similar profile). According to Thornton's daughter, Emily Calvo, he had approximately 10,000 canvas prints of this painting made in the summer of 1968. From a booth on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Thornton sold these canvas prints -- likely for about $10 each -- to delegates and notable individuals, including actor Paul Newman. The convention, which was marred by political demonstrations and rioting outside, ran August 26 to 29, 1968.
This canvas print in the Museum's Collection came from the original 1968 printing. Following the convention, Thornton continued selling - and giving away - his remaining stock. He sent King's widow, Coretta Scott King, a canvas print, which she acknowledged in a letter dated December 12, 1968. King wrote to Thornton: "I am grateful for all the love and compassion which people have shown me and my family since my husband's death. That he was respected and so highly regarded by so many people from all walks of life make us know that his work and sacrifice was not in vain." The original painting was purchased by an executive of Chicago-based printing and publishing company Regensteiner Press in 1968. - Stephen Fagin, Curator
Included in the Museum's temporary exhibit, "Rebel Spirits: Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.," about how these two men, from wildly different backgrounds, were finding common ground in their activism for the poor, for civil rights and for ending the war in Vietnam. This item will be on display on the Museum's seventh floor from June 5, 2018 to September 3, 2018. - Lindsey Richardson, Curator of Collections