This Very Strange Painting Immortalizes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s Freebie Luxury Vacations With a Republican Donor
The billionaire also lent Thomas his private jet to attend the dedication of the statue of a nun at a New Jersey cemetery.
The news that United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spent the past 20 years taking undisclosed luxury vacations on the dime of Republican donor Harlan Crow comes with a bizarre art angle: Crow has immortalized their time together in a painting that hangs at his home at Camp Topridge, a massive compound in Upstate New York’s Adirondack Park.
It’s a photo-realistic work that depicts Crow and Thomas with lawyers Peter Rutledge, Leonard Leo, and Mark Paoletta—all described by ProPublica, which broke the story, as “conservative operatives”—sitting in rustic wooden rocking chairs at Crow’s resort. (Leo, a Federalist Society leader, is said to have been instrumental in the confirmation of a third of the Supreme Court’s current justices, including Thomas, who faced allegations of sexual harassment during his hearings.)
Surrounded by verdant trees, the five men sit below statue of a bare-chested Native American man who is reaching up to the heavens. Crow wears a long-sleeved gingham shirt and khaki shorts that end above the knee with strap-on sandals. Thomas has on a striped blue polo shirt and a casual vest with khaki pants and brown shoes. Both men are smoking cigars.
The canvas is the work of Sharif Tarabay, a Montreal illustrator repped by John Brewster Creative Services in Westport, Connecticut. His artistic influences are reportedly 19th- and 20th-century painters—specifically Norman Rockwell and Haddon Hubbard Sundblom, an American illustrator best known for the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, considered to be the first modern depiction of the legendary Christmas saint.
Tarabay told ProPublica that the scene in the painting is from five years ago—and it’s not the only painting of Thomas he’s made. Recently, Crow gave Thomas and his wife a portrait of themselves, also commissioned from Tarabay. (As of press time, the artist had not responded to inquiries from Artnet News.)
The double portrait is part of a long string of lavish gifts from Crow, a billionaire real estate developer, to Thomas, including Frederick Douglass’s Bible, which cost $19,000. Thomas disclosed that gift, but ProPublica found that the justice had stayed mum on the annual vacations to Camp Topridge, as well as other trips on Crow’s yacht and private plane—travel arrangements that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, were Thomas footing the bill himself.
Among Thomas’s many flights aboard Crow’s jet was a trip from Washington, D.C., to Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah, New Jersey, for the dedication of a seven-foot-tall statue of the justice’s mentor and eighth grade teacher, Sister Mary Virgilius Reidy. (The nun, who died in 2013 at the age of 100, testified on her former student’s behalf in his Supreme Court confirmation in 1991.)
Crow didn’t just cover Thomas’s transportation needs for the 2021 event—he also paid for the statue himself, according to the Jersey Catholic. The work, by Austin sculptor Gary McElhaney, weighed 1,800 pounds—plus the 16,557-pound granite base.
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