“The Four Justices” Puts Women Trailblazers on Display

On Monday a portrait of the four women Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America was revealed. The  life-sized likenesses of Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in D. C. A closeup photo of the portrait can be seen here.

The nearly 9 1/2-by-8-foot oil portrait “The Four Justices” shows veteran Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg seated and the more recently appointed Justices Kagan and Sotomayor standing behind them. The neckwear and facial expressions of the four Justices varies slightly according to their preferences; some, like Ginsburg, appear somber while others, like Kagan, wear faint smiles. The Justices sat for portrait artist Nelson Shanks for many hours last year, in a sitting that the 75-year-old artist described as “semi-controlled chaos” because the women were talking and joking with each other throughout.

Museum director Kim Sajet said,

I imagine this portrait will spark a conversation among young people, particularly young women, about breaking barriers.

When you take a moment to appreciate this piece of art, you may find yourself thinking about the fact that you could barely squeeze all the men who have been justices of the Supreme Court into one portrait. That being said, Shanks’ work does far more than just represent our past and present trailblazers: It inspires future generations of women to pursue careers in law. Art collectors (and abortion-rights supporters)Ian and Annette Cumming commissioned and own the portrait, but it will be on loan to the National Gallery for the next three years.

Photo of O’Connor, Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kagan courtesy of Flickr user Talk Radio News Service via Creative Commons


Melissa McGlensey recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.A. in English and Spanish with a minor in creative writing; she is currently interning at Ms. Read more from her at OhHeyMeliss.com.