Painting the Presidents

The art world has been electrified by Kehinde Wiley’s presidential portrait of Barack Obama for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, which was unveiled last month. Presidential yet contemporary, it portrays an engaged Obama, in front of symbolic greenery.

So we thought we’d share some presidential portrait history. Did you know this is not the first portrait of a president to be considered outside-of-the-Presidential-portrait-box? In the past century, other presidents have been painted in contemporary fashions.

Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley
oil on canvas, 2018
Kehinde Wiley is known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African Americans. The flowers in the background have a significant meaning: the chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, the jasmine represents Obama’s home state of Hawaii, and the African blue lilies pay homage to his late Kenyan father.

John F. Kennedy by Elaine de Kooning
oil on canvas, 1963
Elaine de Kooning, known for her gestural portraits, first created this painting of JFK for the Truman Library. On figurative portraiture, Kooning said, “when I painted my seated men, I saw them as gyroscopes. Portraiture always fascinated me because I love the particular gesture of a particular expression or stance…Working on the figure, I wanted paint to sweep through as feelings sweep through.”

Bill Clinton by Chuck Close
Oil on canvas, 2006
Chuck Close begins all of his paintings by taking a photograph of his subject; in this case, an image of President Clinton from a photo session in August 2005 for a New York magazine cover. He then created grids on both the canvas and the photograph to replicate the information contained in the photograph with a series of abstract geometric shapes. Close suffers from prosopagnosia (face blindness), in which he is unable to recognize faces. By painting portraits, he is better able to recognize and remember faces.

Richard Nixon by Norman Rockwell
Oil on canvas, 1968
Norman Rockwell admitted that he had intentionally flattered Nixon in this portrait. The reason he did, Rockwell said, was that Nixon’s appearance was “troublesomely elusive,” and if he was going to err in his portrayal, he wanted it to be at least in a direction that would please him. Many of his works appear tend toward idealistic or sentimentalized portrayals of American life.

Not Presidential, But our Portraits…

Meyer Vogl Gallery represents several figurative artists whose work is fit for a President (in our opinion!).

Blue by Paul Ferrari
24 x 30 oil on canvas

Summer Breeze by Diane Eugster
30 x 20 oil on canvas

Luke by Paul Farrari
26 x 20 oil on canvas

Les Sœurs II by Carrie Beth Waghorn
44 x 30 Japanese ink on linen