It’s been just a few hours since the Obamas’ portraits were officially unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington and the keyboard critics wasted no time chiming in. It doesn’t look like her! It’s beautiful. What’s up with the bush?
Who knew a presidential portrait could draw so much fire and fury? Actually, we all knew. The official canvas snapshots of each commander in chief have been easy targets for punchlines, political trolling and the ire of the presidents themselves.
The Clintons allegedly hated 42’s official museum portrait painted by artist Nelson Shanks, who revealed in 2015 that a shadow depicted in the piece represented a dress — or should we say the dress — and the “shadow” of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Unsurprisingly, the Clintons weren’t fans and, according to Shanks, wanted the portrait gone.
Though Shanks’s piece hasn’t been on public view since 2009, the Portrait Gallery, which commissions a set of portraits for its own permanent collection, denied the artist’s claim that the canvas was removed because of pressure from the Clintons. The Shanks portrait had simply been “rotated off view,” the Smithsonian said at the time, and replaced with a different Clinton painting by artist Chuck Close.
And then there’s Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who had a hot-and-cold relationship with artist Aaron Shikler for years. Shikler first painted president-elect Reagan in 1980 for the cover of Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” issue. Despite having only 90 minutes to get the job done, and the fact that the future president fell asleep during the session, the Reagans were happy with the outcome. Eight years later, the White House Historical Association, which commissions the set of portraits that hang in the White House, hired Shikler to paint both the president and the first lady.
Nancy’s piece, depicting the first lady in a regal red column gown, went over well. But Ronnie’s? Not so much. The first couple and the artist went back and forth several times, and one portrait was scrapped altogether. The final version, depicting Reagan by his desk, hung briefly in the Oval Office but was eventually replaced with a piece by Everett Raymond Kinstler.
Kinstler’s portrait of Reagan landed back in the news in 2012 when guests of the White House’s first-ever gay pride reception snapped photos of themselves making a vulgar gesture aimed at the former president. When the photos surfaced online, the Obama administration responded: “Behavior like this doesn’t belong anywhere, least of all in the White House.”
But not everyone got that memo.
During a visit to the executive mansion last April, Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent and Kid Rock struck a pose in front of Hillary Clinton’s official first lady portrait. That image, posted to Palin’s Facebook page without comment, seemed to be mocking Clinton, who lost the presidency to Donald Trump. CNN contributor Ana Navarro called the picture “childish.”