George W. Bush not the first presidential painter

A painting by George W. Bush of his dog Barney, courtesy of the Bush family. A painting by George W. Bush of his dog Barney, courtesy of the Bush family.

A hack into e-mail accounts owned by members of the Bush family has exposed some of George W. Bush's post-presidency oil paintings, including two self-portraits. He joins a small group of presidential painters, although he's the first to turn to art only after his presidency.

Ulysses S. Grant was an accomplished painter who honed his skills in a drawing class at West Point. He studied under Robert Walter Weir, who later taught James McNeill Whistler. (Robert E. Lee was another student.) 

Dwight D. Eisenhower took up painting while serving as president of Columbia University. His doctor suggested it could help relieve stress. (He was also inspired in part by Winston Churchill, another painter.) But he didn't take his work very seriously. At a 1967 exhibit of his art Eisenhower told a reporter, "They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.”

David Eisenhower with a painting made by his late grandfather, President Dwight Eisenhower. (Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post)

The think tank Think Act Lead has a list of other presidential hobbies. Harry Truman played piano; FDR enjoyed birdwatching. But according to the site, James Polk's only hobby was "politics."

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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Rachel Weiner · February 8, 2013