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ouis Briel has, throughout his career, done posthumous portrait tributes. His work has been a healing and therapeutic ministry, often done pro bono. His 1963 portrait of President Kennedy, presented to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was the first.

During the mid 1980's Briel was commissioned to paint a college professor, an old friend, who had died of cancer, the portrait to honor his academic accomplishment. Briel comments, "I already knew what I wanted the painting to look like because I knew the subject so well. As I worked, the painted image would look at me, just as the subject had so many times, and say, 'Get to work, just do it, Louis.' In time I created a forceful and dynamic presence on canvas, intuitively right. I had painted in everything I knew about my friend and was confident he would have liked the final result. The professor's wife later told me of her daily visits to the building where the portrait was hanging, to meditate, to talk to it, to 'get centered.' "Your painting", she said, "got me through that year."


In 1988 Briel was commissioned by a friend to do a posthumous portrait of his twelve year old son who had been killed in a plane crash. He had known the boy to be a wonderful youngster - bright, happy and well adjusted. Briel says, "His father, of course, was enormously distraught and came to me only after some time had passed, but still was unable to look at photographs. I knew that I could not paint this portrait without help from my friend, and so I insisted that we not start until he was willing to work with me. He finally agreed, and we began going through photographs, sharing reminiscences,crying and laughing together. Gradually over time, a painting of the young boy began to emerge. The sharing provided a suitable outlet for my feelings of sadness, and served as timely therapy for my friend. What helped me most was seeing how wonderful his experience of his son had been." The painting became a joyous, happy tribute to a father's love.

Christopher Bage Wells

(1988) 48 x 36

private collection

Scott Phillips

(1991) 36 x 36

private collection

Most often posthumous paintings are commissioned by parents who have lost children. In 1991 Briel completed a portrait of Scott Phillips, killed during his senior year in high school.

Jessica and Lars

(1996) 30 x 40

private collection

In 1996 he completed a portrait for art writer and collector Martha Mabey in honor of her daughter Jessica and her deceased son Lars.


(1997) 22 x 28

Collection: Sir Elton John

Recently, Briel's posthumous tribute to Princess Diana, a gift to Elton John in 1997, went on worldwide tour with the singer during the difficult first year after her death.

Officer Brian Brown, LAPD
(1999) 28 x 22
private collection

In 1999 Briel painted Officer Brian Brown, LAPD, killed during a pursuit in the the line of duty. Briel presented the painting to Brown's seven year old son Dylon. Dennis Brown, Brian's father and Dylon's grandfather, wrote to Briel, "Thank you so much for your gift of love. We will cherish it and it will be a wonderful remembrance of Brian that we can share through the generations."

Posthumous portraits pay tribute to a life well lived and the continuing love and admiration of those who survive. There is healing and therapy in the journey toward the finished painting, for both the artist and the extended family of the deceased. While portraits cannot replace those we lose, they can serve as a compassionate bridge to the future.