This Portrait of Seth Williams Is a Superb Symbol of Philly’s Self-Important Pols

One of the gifts the district attorney failed to disclose on time is an elegant portrait of himself. It's literally priceless.

District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Roof repairs: $45,000.

Vacation travel from Vegas to Virginia and beyond: $20,800.

Tickets to Phillies and Sixers games: $2,930.

A portrait of District Attorney Seth Williams that serves as a perfect symbol of Philadelphia’s self-important political class: Priceless.


Buried in the list of gifts that Williams finally divulged on Monday is this item, tweeted to the world by WHYY’s Bobby Allyn:

Christine Hunt is a portrait painter who lives in Wayne. In a 2014 interview with Main Line milliner Milica Schiavio, she revealed that she rejects the photorealist style most contemporary portrait painters use in favor of an older tradition dating back to artists like Vermeer, Caravaggio and Sargent:

“My first priority is to have an interactive relationship with my subject apart from any setting to establish what it is that I need to ultimately portray them apart from the obvious physical attributes. […] My goal is to construct a setting that supports exactly what insight I am trying to communicate about my subject while still suggesting both a concrete and psychological sense of time and place.”

As far as a relationship is concerned, Hunt said of Williams, “We’re old friends. He did me the favor of sitting for me for a portrait I could include in my portfolio. In exchange, I donated it to his family. It has nominal value.”

Judging from her portrait (clearly painted before the D.A.’s ballyhooed weight loss), the insight Hunt is trying to communicate is: Our District Attorney is a glorified ward boss.

Portrait of Seth Williams by Christie Hunt

Portrait of Seth Williams by Christie Hunt

The overstuffed leather chair, the column behind him, and especially the cigar dangling from his left hand all blend to create an image of a man straight out of the smoke-filled rooms of old where back-room deals were cut.

What the portrait doesn’t say, but what Williams’ willingness to sit for it does, is this: Ain’t I grand? Hunt’s commissioned work includes portraits of a number of genuine Philly bluebloods, including descendants of the Dorrance and Strawbridge families, and her portfolio is heavy with men who have served in military positions, including the Italian equivalent of our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several members of the prestigious First City Troop. Next to this firepower, a district attorney seems like small beer, but many of our local pols have demonstrated over the years that they have outsized opinions of their own importance.

So far, there’s no evidence of any quid pro quo in the gifts Williams received, and some of the travel was for ostensibly valuable professional talks. But his failure to disclose them in a timely fashion was a serious omission that hurts his credibility and could cost him city penalties of $1,000 per gift as well as state penalties that could climb as high as a year’s salary: $175,572.

In his 2017 re-election campaign, Williams cites “the need for greater transparency” on the part of elected officials. In filing the disclosures this week, he clearly tripped over himself there. As a result, he could end up paying a pretty penny for this invaluable portrait that perhaps offers a glimpse into his soul.

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