It was 2013, and Christie Hunt had been a portrait artist for several years in Philadelphia, but she needed to develop her portfolio and raise her profile. So, naturally, she reached out through her network.
So Hunt, now of Wayne, asked Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams to pose for a complimentary portrait. She knew the D.A. through her husband, who served with Williams in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, as reservists.
“I don’t ask just anyone to sit for me, but there has to be something special that I see in this person,” Hunt wrote in an email to Billy Penn. “I felt Seth would be a great subject. I saw in Seth charisma, tenacity, intelligence and fearlessness along with a deep empathy for those around him.”
Williams agreed. The result: Philly’s chief law enforcement officer leaning back in a leather chair, holding a cigar and looking, well, a little pompous?
To be fair, this image of Williams was produced around 45 pounds ago; the D.A. has been religious about exercise in recent years.
The painting might have remained an obscurity, a minor link on Hunt’s portraits page, had Williams followed campaign finance rules on time, and exposing his filings to much less scrutiny.
This week, the sitting district attorney who is reportedly under investigation by the FBI, belatedly reported more than $160,000 worth of gifts spanning between 2010 and 2015. He stands to face serious fines that could be up to $1,000 for every gift he didn’t report on time.
Among the gifts Williams detailed in the recent filing were a $45,000 roof repair, thousands of dollars worth of travel and airfare expenses and, yes, a free oil painting courtesy of Hunt.
The painting is one of the only items on the filing thats value was listed as “unknown.” Hunt said that at the time of the gift, the value was “negligible” because, though it took a few months to complete while she worked on it intermittently, she wasn’t an established artist at the time.
Rather than traditional oil paintings on canvas, Hunt uses multiple layers of paint on plywood and considers her painting of Williams one of her proudest accomplishments.
She’s painted others — mostly military leaders, including of retired Rear Admiral Thomas Lynch. Her portrait of Lynch was unveiled at the Naval Academy campus in Annapolis, Maryland in June 2014. At the time, Hunt still said that Williams was one of her favorite subjects, telling the West Chester Daily Local that he is “a very warm and confident person.”
“Seth’s portrait is special to me,” she said, “in that I appreciate Seth giving time and effort to support a struggling Philadelphia artist.”
Williams’ spokesman had not heard of the painting; we’ll update if we get a response from the D.A.’s office.