The Washington Post

Some Obama Cabinet secretaries already framed in official portraits, while some Bushies haven’t

Madeleine Albright’s portrait was years in the making. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

This spring has seen a mini-flurry of portrait unveilings, including two Obama officials who were still in office when their paintings debuted — and one Bush administration official who’s been out of office for more than four years.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s portrait was unveiled May 16 (he’s leaving, he says, as soon as the Senate confirms his replacement), and former Interior secretary Ken Salazar’s was unveiled in late March, just a few weeks before he formally stepped down.

Speedy paintwork from those artists.

In a bit of a throwback, the portrait of former Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt also was feted this month. But if Leavitt had to cool his heels for a good four years before being immortalized on canvas, at least he didn’t have it as bad as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, whose likeness wasn’t unveiled at Foggy Bottom until more than seven years after she left the department. (Bush SecState Condoleezza Rice is still awaiting her oil-memorialization.)

Seems some paintings come together more quickly than others.

The portrait boom also reminds us how even official portraits can be so personal. Salazar’s, for example, is quite informal, with the bolo-tie fan depicted in a Western setting, wearing his signature neckwear. His denim-clad wife, daughters and granddaughter are pictured behind him. LaHood harkens to his Illinois roots by being shown standing next to a bust of the Prairie State’s favorite son (sorry, Ray), Abraham Lincoln.

And the symbolism can be indelible: Who can forget that Mitt Romney’s official Massachusetts governor’s portrait shows him perched next to a copy of that health-care bill that he so strenuously distanced himself from during his failed presidential bid?

Perhaps the long lag time for some paintings is another argument for scrapping the tradition of capturing our statesmen and women in oils and instead opting for cheaper photographs, something spending hawks have long argued for.

In this age of sequestration, is a picture really worth a thousand words?

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.


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