The portraits of President Obama and the First Lady have been unveiled at the Smithsonian National Gallery this week. I know this news is well-known and may produce varied reaction. But I have thoughts on the question of presidential portraits.
I take President James A Garfield Class of 1856 as a starting point:
This is the official White House portrait done by a popular artist of the day. Garfield’s considerable talents may or may not be visible in this conservative style. Remember, he did not want to run for president and was surprised at the convention when in a speech he was making in support of another candidate, he asked an impassioned question: “What do we want?” and the answer was “Garfield”
And now ‘Compare and Contrast. as the writing on the board went in days of yore.
President Roosevelt is by John Singer Sargent, portrayer of society in the Gilded Age. President Obama’s portrait is by Kihinde Wiley. Much has been said about the changes in society and attitudes towards portraying our presidents. You can make your own compare and contrast.
I add as a thought that President Teddy Roosevelt did not like the portrait painted by the French very successful painter of the rich and/or famous Theobold Cartran. This official portrait was a gift from the French Ambassador. Roosevelt burned it.
But Chartran had far better luck with his portrait of First Lady Edith Roosevelt. Here is another ‘compare and contrast’ …two First Ladies: Edith Roosevelt and Michelle Obama. First Lady Obama’s portrait by Amy Sherald.
The two portraits vary in style, yet each capture the grace, ease, and intelligence of these two women.The use of the dresses is so important to both portraits! Mrs Roosevelt is credited with spurring on the establishment of the National Gallery where these are on display.
What are presidential portraits supposed to do? In these new times, a move toward capturing the energy of the sitter may become more important than a more conventional and expected view. Who was the President? What do we see? Why do we see it?
Which of course leads me to this thought … how will an artist choose to capture the energy of the 45th president and his First Lady?
Now that most of Sunday has past, even here in Pacific Time, it is time to turn in your blue book (s).
In order to check yourselves against others views, please go to Comments Two and Four for three interesting reviews, one by a constant contributor.