Bennett’s Painting Accepted Into Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Tony Bennett has donated one of his original paintings to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s which has been accepted to their collection. Bennett’s watercolor painting of Duke Ellington titled “God Is Love” marks his third painting that has been included in Smithsonian collections.

In 2006, Bennett’s oil painting of Central Park was accepted into the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection and in 2002, his portrait of Ella Fitzgerald was acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The 15-time Grammy Award winning singer has an established reputation as an accomplished visual artist who been painting all his life.

Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery said, “We are thrilled to have this painting. Think of it: Anthony Benedetto — Tony Bennett — the son of Italian immigrants, portraying his mentor Duke Ellington, the grandson of a slave. There was great affection between these two outstanding contributors to America’s musical heritage.”

“It is an enormous honor to now have three of my paintings in collections at the Smithsonian and it is something that I would never have imagined when I started out as a young child drawing with chalk on the sidewalks of my hometown in Astoria, Queens,” said Bennett. “Painting has been a lifelong passion of mine and the portrait of Duke Ellington is my favorite painting of all and it is a thrill to know it will have a permanent home at such a prestigious institution as the National Portrait Gallery.”

Both natives of Queens, N.Y., Bennett and Ellington had a longtime friendship and Bennett performed with Ellington on several occasions and recorded a tribute CD to him, BENNETT SINGS ELLINGTON: HOT AND COOL, released in 1999. Bennett’s painting of Ellington, “God Is Love.” depicts Ellington with a bouquet of pink roses in the background. Bennett chose this motif to commemorate Duke’s habit of sending the singer a dozen pink roses when he wrote a new song. The painting will be presented in a special ceremony in April 2009 at the National Portrait Gallery, which will mark the 110th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

Born Washington, DC

In the first rank of American composers, Duke Ellington was–to use a favorite phrase of his own–“beyond category.” His more than 2,000 jazz compositions included such classics as “Satin Doll” and “Sophisticated Lady,” as well as more extended works such as Black, Brown and Beige.Later, between 1965-1973, he explored his spiritual side in “sacred concerts” that combined jazz, classical music, choral music, spirituals, blues, and dance. Ellington received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, and a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for “long-term achievement” in 1999.


Anthony Benedetto (b. 1926), best-known as legendary performer Tony Bennett, has had a life-long interest in painting. Bennett has said that this portrait honors the memory of Duke Ellington as his mentor, and describes being “inspired by the look of divine serenity” on Ellington when he painted this portrait. The roses recall Ellington’s habit in his later years of sending Bennett a small bouquet of roses whenever he composed a new piece of music.

SOURCE RPM Productions