DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DC --
Music fills the artist’s headphones, pulling him into his work. He has painted for the past 45 days, but soon his job would be complete. He sets down his stylus, takes a step back from his tablet, and critiques his work. This piece must be nothing short of perfection, for he is only the 2nd active-duty Marine in history to paint a commandant of the Marine Corps’ portrait.
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Charles Baumann, a logistics officer from San Antonio, was selected last fall to create a portrait of Gen. David Berger, the 38th commandant of the Marine Corps.
After becoming a Marine in 2012, Baumann thought he would have to stop doing art to focus on his job. That was the case until 2014 when he found out about an opportunity to do art in the Marine Corps.
“Art is a part of who I am, but when I was joining the Marine Corps back in 2012, I thought I was going to have to put my art on the backburner," U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Charles Baumann, a logistics officer from San Antonio
said Baumann. "I didn’t know that there was a place for art in the Marine Corps.”
Baumann graduated from the combat artist school in 2015, becoming one of two active-duty combat artists in the Marine Corps at the time. In 2018, Baumann deployed as a combat artist to Norway and Djibouti, then deployed the following year to Iraq.
“In 2019, this is probably my favorite, I went out to Iraq and embedded with 1/7," said Baumann. "That trip was different, and better in my opinion, because I was able to sit down and create very specific artwork and portraits of Marines."
In September 2022 while stationed with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Baumann was selected to go to Washington D.C. for an interview as part of the process to be selected to paint the portrait of the 38th commandant of the Marine Corps.
“I was extremely humbled; it was a little intimidating, but I also knew it was a humbling opportunity that, despite being nervous, I did not want to pass up,” Baumann said.
Once selected, Baumann and the photography team spent a month capturing between 200-300 reference photos and interviewing the commandant to get the details for the portrait. Baumann spent hours studying the previous commandants' portraits and analyzing the brushstrokes and color pallets.
Baumann wanted to portray certain attributes through intentional design and composition. Baumann wanted to portray Berger as if he were looking to the future because of his focus on innovation and the future fight. He selected a sunset setting to symbolize that change is coming. He wanted Marine Barracks Washington in the background to include the oldest post of the Marine Corps.
“When I got to the commandant’s house, I took about three hours to just critically analyze the other commandants’ portraits," said Baumann. "I studied the brushwork; I studied the color pallets…I asked Gen. Berger, what style you like the best? He pointed out Gen. Kelly and Gen. Krulak, so I took notes on both of those specifically."
Photo by Jason W. Chan
A portrait of the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, hangs in the home of the commandant in Washington, July 17, 2023. U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Charles Baumann, a logistics officer with 8th Marine Corps District, is the 2nd active-duty combat artist selected to paint a portrait of a commandant of the Marine Corps.
“I had to learn how to use the digital aspect of it…that I thought was going to be a big challenge, but I realized a lot of the traditional skills I’ve developed transfer over very well,” said Baumann.
The portrait was unveiled July 10, 2023, at Berger’s retirement ceremony in Washington.
“The first time the commandant saw the finished portrait, he was very reserved; he made sure to get everyone else's opinion on it," said Baumann. "They all said they liked it, and it looked good, but I only cared what he and his wife thought of it. His wife's turn comes up and she says, ‘I like it; it's vibrant and an accurate portrayal, it looks good.’ And he had similar words. Later that night I got a text from his aide saying, ‘They got back to me after looking at it in their private setting, and they really like it and said you did an amazing job'."
“Being selected as the commandant's portrait artist is by far the biggest honor I have ever had. If I get the opportunity to do it again, 100 percent, I’m taking it," said Baumann. "That’s just such a fulfilling thing, portraying the senior leader of our branch of service in a way that is going to be displayed for potentially centuries to come.”