Painting of Franz Joseph Haydn by C. Gregory Stapko
Milwaukee-born C. Gregory Stapko (1913–2006) was a school dropout and housepainter who became the nation’s foremost copyist of famous works. His paintings hang in the White House, Blair House, the Arlington House, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. embassies, and government agencies. He also painted original portraits of Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, and private citizens.
After leaving school in 7th grade, Stapko became an apprentice to church painters who taught him to restore frescoes, imitate marble and woods, paint murals, and apply gold leaf. At 18, he started a house painting business but had to close it when most of the helpers left for the military at the outbreak of World War II. At the urging of Polish artist Eliasz Kanarek,
Stapko left Milwaukee in 1941 for Washington, D.C., where his career as a copyist began. Kanarek had operated a studio in Washington and had connections there that led to portrait commissions for Stapko.
Stapko began to lug his paints and easel into the National Gallery of Art and set up in front of a painting spending hours perfecting his technique by making a copy. In the 1940s, he was hired by New York publishers of fine art books to make copies of National Gallery masterpieces. At the height of his career, Stapko turned out 50 to 70 works a year, both copies and originals. He also restored damaged paintings, taught oil painting, did gold-leaf work for churches, built furniture, and crafted copies of old frames. In the 1950s, he designed and built a unique house and studio in McLean, VA, also crafting the home’s furniture. He lived there until his death.