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An official portrait of former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee rests in the Statehouse near a painting of George Washington.
An official portrait of former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee rests in the Statehouse near a painting of George Washington.Jennifer McDermott/AP

PROVIDENCE — An official portrait of former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee that is unlike his predecessors’ portraits was unveiled Thursday at the State House.

Chafee, who did not attend, chose Providence artist Julie Gearan, who describes herself as a painter of less traditional subjects. She said Chafee wanted something different from the typical portrait of a governor in their office with a globe and a flag, looking straight ahead.

In the portrait, Chafee looks to the side, pensively. The background is blank space and his left hand rests on a rock.

The blank space represents the isolation he felt in office and the rock depicts the state and the storminess it endured, as well as Chafee’s care for nature, Gearan said.


Gearan asked Chafee to wear a heavy, black coat to show the weight of the office. She said he resisted because he does not own that kind of coat, but eventually agreed to be shown in a coat she borrowed. His right hand pulls it off slightly, to show Chafee wrestling with the weight, Gearan said.

‘‘He’s a very gentle person but I think we all know that he’s stubborn, too, so I wanted that firmness to be set in his jaw and his brow,’’ she said.

When Chafee saw the finished work, he said it was ‘‘gorgeous,’’ Gearan said.

By contrast, former Governor Donald Carcieri, Chafee’s predecessor, poses at his desk with the flag and pictures of his family in his portrait.

Chafee, a former US senator, served as governor from 2011 to 2014. He did not seek reelection last year.

Chafee told the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts that he would not attend the unveiling so as to not distract from Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration.

The state’s current general officers did not attend because Chafee was not going, said Randall Rosenbaum, the council’s executive director.


The $15,000 project was commissioned by the state last year. It will be hung in the State House.

‘‘When that fifth-grade group goes through the building and sees a picture of Governor Noel for example, it may, for some, give them the impetus to actually learn something more about the governor and the period of time he lived in,’’ Rosenbaum said. ‘‘Future generations will do the same thing with Governor Chafee’s portrait.’’