Trump portrait displayed alongside those of other presidents
WASHINGTON - When the National Portrait Gallery reopened to visitors last Friday, it was expanded to include presidential portraits in addition to its famous exhibition. There, in the gallery on the second floor, Donald Trump, joining George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, was scowling from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
Just as there are customs associated with the presidency, life after the president has its own expectations and privileges. One of them is the creation of a presidential library. Another is a portrait of the president. And while no plans for a Trump library have been announced, the portrait now on public display is a sign that Trump is entering the pantheon of past presidents, even as he contemplates a 2024 presidential election.
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington in January 2013, two days before Barack Obama's second inauguration. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images)
Trump combines iconic examples of presidential portraits like Gilbert Stuart's 1796 painting of George Washington and Elaine de Kooning's abstracted view of John F. Kennedy, reflecting both the turmoil and promise of the 1960s. Trump's portrait, however, is a photo Pari Dukovic took for Time Magazine in 2019.
A traditional oil-on-canvas portrait is "currently on the move," Smithsonian Institution spokesman Brendan Kelly told Yahoo News. "We contacted the President and Ms. Trump after the 2020 elections and are currently holding talks with them."
Dukovic's photo shows Trump playing the role of chief executive, the role he played on both television (on NBC's "The Apprentice") and in real life. One hand rests flat on the Resolute Desk, first used by Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. The other is on the armrest of his leather chair. The president looks straight into the camera, eyes narrowed and lips pursed. His suit jacket is buttoned. His tie is red.
The chair is partially turned away from the desk, suggesting that Trump is about to get up. Behind him are the portraits of Andrew Jackson and Benjamin Franklin. Trump often cited Jackson, a fellow populist, as a role model for his own presidency.
Trump is an accomplished image manipulator and has always tried to convey the impression of authority and talent. Dukovic captures this wish without commenting on it. Trump has power, as the photo suggests, but that power is isolating. The Oval Office exudes history, but also loneliness (Trump preferred the residence where he could watch TV and make phone calls in relative peace).
A photo portrait of former President Donald Trump in the National Portrait Gallery. (Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images)
Trump looks "pale and grim" in the photo, said Paul Staiti, presidential portrait expert who teaches at Mount Holyoke College and wrote the book "Of Arms and Artists," a book about how painters saw the American Revolution. “I can imagine the upcoming official portrait painting, however, will be great. Trump will have a lot of control; it will be his vision of himself. I expect something big, flattering, and shiny, ”Staiti told Yahoo News.
Trump will also speak about the wall text, which is currently openly addressing his legacy, noting the record number of judges he has appointed, but also acknowledging that he has been charged twice by the House of Representatives. His refusal to allow the November 3, 2020 election resulted in "a crowd of his supporters" storming and destroying the US Capitol on January 6, according to the text.
Trump's photo is across from a portrait of Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader and member of the House of Representatives who passed away last year. Staiti says that it "invites heated conversation". In 2017, Lewis said he didn't believe Trump was the nation's "legitimate" leader. When he died three years later, Trump showed little sympathy. "He didn't come to my inauguration," he said of Lewis.
"Trump's neighbor on the right is Richard Nixon," said Staiti. Trump's critics have often compared him to Nixon, a Republican who stepped down amid the Watergate scandal and impeachment.
The Trump photo hangs on a free-standing partition, the opposite side of which is from Kehinde Wiley's portrait of Barack Obama, whose success Trump had in the Oval Office after relentlessly lowering his record during the 2016 presidential campaign. Earlier, Trump had proclaimed the discredited conspiracy theory that Obama was a Muslim born outside of the United States.
Former President Barack Obama alongside his recently unveiled portrait at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
Kelly, the Smithsonian spokesman, said the last two presidents always stand one behind the other and that Lewis and Trump side by side were not intended. Still, some symbolism must be seen in a president whose opponents have said he has apologized or even approved of white supremacy facing a civil rights legend on one side and the nation's first black president on the other.
Although visitor numbers are not available, Kelly said that tickets to the museum will be booked for the coming weeks (these tickets are free but must be reserved in advance). "The American Presidents Gallery has always been a must see for visitors," he said. Portraits of the Obamas attracted a lot of public attention when they were unveiled in 2018.
How much attention Trump will get is difficult to say, especially since access to the museum will be restricted for some time. But as with the Trump presidency itself, the portrait is sure to be controversial. "I purposely averted my eyes," a visitor told the Guardian at the weekend.
Cover picture thumbnail: Win McNamee / Getty Images
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CG: PHI@SF - 6/18/21