As maestro of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Robert Moody is accustomed to adulation. But the kind of fawning he received Wednesday night was a bit much, even for him.

Rarely without something to say, Moody was left nearly speechless as a large portrait of him was unveiled at an invitation-only affair at a home on Portland’s Western Promenade.

“Wow,” Moody said, as the black cloth came off the portait, which measures nearly 6 feet wide and 5 feet tall. He rubbed his hands through his hair and blushed, soaking in the painting and the applause.

The oil-on-canvas painting depicts Moody facing the orchestra, baton in hand. He is surrounded by musicians in the foreground, and members of the audience are visible in the background.

Renowned portrait artist James Crowley made the painting this summer. Crowley is a season sponsor of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Part of his sponsorship involved painting a portrait of the popular music director, who begins his sixth season Sunday evening at Merrill Auditorium.

The portrait will be on view at Merrill throughout the season.

“It’s pretty heady stuff,” Moody said. “I really feel so honored and somewhat giddy about the whole thing. You don’t expect to be the person sitting with a great artist sketching you. James Crowley, if you look at his work, he does the presidents of Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities. I’m honored just to be a part of it.”

The only person more excited for the unveiling than Moody, he said, was his mother.

His reaction when the symphony approached him with the idea in the spring? “Thank God it’s now and not 50 years from now.”

Moody sat for more than 400 photos, and he and Crowley got together at Moody’s home in North Carolina to establish a rapport. They had little trouble finding common ground. Both are natives of South Carolina, and grew up less than 30 miles from each other.

Both have an affinity for music, art and creativity, and they hit it off quickly.

“He was great. He’s very easygoing,” said Crowley, who spent about 40 days this summer working on the painting once he put paint to canvas. “He’s so accessible, and not at all intimidating. I tried to capture some of that charm in the painting.”

Added Moody, “He made it really easy for me to relax and be myself.”

Of course, Crowley is used to cooperative subjects. “Most people are pretty nice to a portrait painter,” he said, laughing.

Crowley, 63, is a well-established artist who specializes in highly realistic portraits. He is classically trained, and cites as influences many of the Old Masters. His clients include college presidents, business leaders and private citizens.

His paintings sell for tens of thousands of dollars. If he were selling the Moody portrait, Crowley would charge in the neighborhood of $50,000.

He is turning it over to the symphony as part of his promotional agreement. His daughter recently moved to Portland, and Crowley wants to establish his presence in Maine and New England. He matched up with the symphony through a family friend, Claire Hammen, who formerly worked for the symphony and now is representing Crowley and his work in Portland.

“I’m going to be spending a lot of time up here,” Crowley said. “I want to figure out how I can get something going in New England, and what better way to do that than with a showpiece portrait like this?”

Because of his popularity and the credibility of the symphony within the community, Moody presented a perfect opportunity for Crowley to get his work seen by many people, the artist said.

“Robert is handsome guy, and handsome people make good paintings,” he said. “He has a lot of flair and style.”

For the symphony, the portrait presents an opportunity to put Moody’s image in front of a lot of people on a recurring basis. Symphony patrons will see the portrait each time they come to Merrill for a concert, but so will the public at large, said Lisa Dixon, the symphony’s executive director.

“It’s a win-win. We’re always trying to find new ways to get out there and connect with folks. It’s a great opportunity to have a presence at Merrill throughout the season. And for the artist, it’s a great way to establish visibility within the Portland community,” she said. 

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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