My Favourite Painting: Bruce Johnston

Duke Ellington, “God Is Love”, 14in by 20in, by Tony Bennett (born 1926),

National Portrait Gallery Smithsonian Institute, Washington DCLord Grimond said that the two most contented people he knew were a shepherd and the 11th Duke of Devonshire. Tony Bennett seems deserving of their company. He experienced hard times as a child in the Depression, fought in the trenches in the Second World War and helped liberate Landsberg concentration camp, yet he embodies goodwill and optimism. ‘My goal is to improve all the time. Here I am today at eighty-six,’ he writes in his 2012 autobiography, ‘and I’m even more passionate now than ever before… I’m proud to say that I feel I’ve never worked a day in my life-and I know that’s because I love what I do.’

He was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in New York, the son of Italian immigrants. Bob Hope
suggested his stage name, but he signs his pictures ‘Benedetto’. He always wanted to sing and paint and recognises what a blessing this conviction has been. ‘I meet so many people who seem to know so much but… they really have no idea what they want to do with their lives.’

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His art is as important to him as his music and he’s never without a sketchbook. Duke Ellington was one of his idols, and, of all the portraits he’s painted, this is his favourite. The Duke used to send him a bunch of roses to announce he had written a new song; once, he even sent a choir. ‘I was inspired by the peaceful expression on his face, and that is why I inscribed it with the words “God Is Love”.’

Bruce Johnston is a member of the Beach Boys, a composer and Grammy Award-winning songwriter

‘I admire Tony Bennett, not only for his longstanding and continuing musical accomplishments, but for his artistic achievements as well. Painted under his given surname of Benedetto, this work is a watercolour study of celebrated jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington, and is my choice for its softness, warmth and wonderful representation of true friendship. The roses depicted symbolise the ones sent to Bennett by Ellington each time he had a new song for him to listen to ’

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