McDonnell, still under a cloud of scandal, unveils official portrait in Richmond


The portrait of Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell is unveiled at the Library of Virginia. The portrait will be displayed on the third floor of the Virginia State Capitol with the gubernatorial portraits of Governor McDonnell’s predecessors. (Photo Courtesy of Michaele White, Governor’s Photographer)
December 3, 2013

Mark R. Warner, bipartisan deal-maker, stands with hands on hips in his gubernatorial portrait, looking ready for horse-trading. Timothy M. Kaine, preserver of open space, stands jacketless against a tree.

The latest reckoning of a Virginia governor in oil and canvas, unveiled Tuesday at the Library of Virginia, shows Gov. Robert F. McDonnell standing on the front porch of the executive mansion.

Not long after the painting was commissioned last year, McDonnell (R) and Richmond portrait artist Nancy Mauck settled on the location because the gracious butter-yellow home would celebrate its bicentennial this year. McDonnell’s pose — he is facing the mansion, one hand on the iron railing, the other in a pocket — allowed the artist to work into the background a George Washington statue in Capitol Square that the governor admires.

But by the time of the unveiling, the setting had become apt in a painful way: The governor’s mansion has been at the center of scandal that has consumed McDonnell’s final year in office, threatening to overshadow his substantial legacy.

McDonnell is the subject of state and federal investigations of his relationship with a Virginia businessman who provided the governor and his family with more than $160,000 in gifts and money characterized as loans. McDonnell has apologized for embarrassing the commonwealth and returned the gifts and money, but he also has said that he broke no laws and provided no favors to businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. or his company, Star Scientific, which makes nutritional supplements.

The mansion has factored into the scandal in several ways. Williams picked up the $15,000 catering tab at a wedding reception at the mansion for one of McDonnell’s daughters. McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell held an event at the residence to mark the launch of Star Scientific’s supplement, Anatabloc. Williams’s largess came to light only when the mansion chef turned whistle-blower after he was accused of stealing food from the kitchen.

About 100 people gathered Tuesday evening for the unveiling of the portrait, which will be displayed on the third floor of the state Capitol with the framed likenesses of governors past. The gilt-framed painting, measuring 36 inches by 48 inches, was paid for with $25,000 that the General Assembly appropriates once every four years for the purpose.

Mauck met with McDonnell several times and had him pose on the mansion porch while she made a smaller “oil sketch.” She worked from that as well as many photos of the governor to make the final portrait, which shows him wearing a dark suit, sky-blue tie and confident smile.

“He’s in a casual but I think strong pose,” Mauck said in an interview. “He’s got a really easy-going, friendly, confident way. I painted him with a slight smile, which I think captures that.”

The event provided McDonnell with an opportunity to look back on some of his accomplishments in transportation, education and the restoration of rights. As the son of a stay-at-home mom and an Air Force officer who didn’t go to college until he was 48, McDonnell said he could never have imagined that “a kid like me” could grow up to be governor of Virginia.

“It’s been the highest privilege of my life to serve in the same seat as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson,” he said.

Among those drawn to the event were Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D), Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), former lieutenant governor John H. Hager (R) and former first lady Anne Holton (who is married to Kaine). McDonnell was accompanied by his wife, who is also under investigation and has kept a low profile since the scandal erupted in late March.

Bolling received sustained applause during his introduction, during which he referred to McDonnell three times as a “good and decent man.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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