The Eyes

The Eyes

Sunday, January 20, 2013

American Landscapes in The White House Art Collection

The beauty and splendor of the American landscape has been toiled over and captured grandly by many artists, with names like Albert Bierstadt, Asher B. Durand, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Moran, Georgia O'Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth. The White House art collection includes spectacular renditions of our nation's geographic diversity. 

Bierstadt's large compositions were exhibited in Europe, romanticizing the unblemished wilderness, grasping the viewers attention to the wonder of the United States.  A few first ladies played a role in the acquisition of some of the latter works including Hillary Clinton's championing O'Keefe and Laura Bush insisting on the purchase of a work by Wyeth months before the artist's death. The White House curator noted the coup by Mrs. Bush of the unprecedented acquisition of a work by a living artist. He said they would have never been able to afford to purchase it after the price of the artist's works skyrocketed following his death.

Surf at Prout's Neck (1895) | Winslow Homer
Asgaard Cornfield (Corn and Oats, Gray Day) (1945 - 1950) | Rockwell Kent
Mountain at Bear Lake -  Taos (1930) | Georgia O'Keeffe
Mrs. Charlie Stone (1945) | Andrew Wyeth

Saturday, January 19, 2013

U.S. Presidential Portraiture

First Lady Dolley Madison may have been the first to recognize the importance of presidential portraiture when she famously saved Gilbert Stuart's full-length painting of George Washington from destruction when fleeing The White House before it was burned by British troops in August 1814. In 1800, Congress allocated $800 to purchase Stuart's portrait of the much-revered first president, but it would be another half a century before funding further acquisition of official portraits for the President’s House.

In 1857, Congress commissioned Chicago artist, George P. A. Healy to paint portraits of several presidents. The portraits, completed from life or Healy’s replicas of earlier life portraits, were of John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce. Finished by 1859, the portraits were stored in The White House attic, as no funds had been provided for framing them. After the Civil War President Andrew Johnson obtained funding to frame them and hung the portraits in the Cross Hall.

Four years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Congress allocated funds for a competition leaving the selection of the winning portrait to the incoming president, Ulysses S. Grant. He selected a full-length study by William Cogswell. Healy had also entered the competition and when his portrait was not chosen, Robert Todd Lincoln, bought it. His widow bequeathed it to The White House in 1939. Today the Healy portrait hangs in the State Dining Room while the Cogswell portrait has been relegated to storage.

Detail of State Dining Room with Lincoln portrait by George P.A. Healy


Rutherford B. Hayes and Mrs. Hayes took great interest in collecting presidential portraits for The White House, adding paintings of Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, and William Henry Harrison in the 1870s. After he left office, Hayes selected the fashionable American artist Daniel Huntington, who had painted a stunning portrait of Mrs. Hayes years earlier. Huntington was later commissioned for the official portrait of Chester Arthur, the first president to be painted for The White House while in office.

Twentieth century presidential portraits have been painted from life during their administrations by such renowned artists as John Singer Sargent (Theodore Roosevelt). However, no government patronage had been established for portrait acquisition. Presidential families or friends often donated portraits to The White House years after the president’s term of office. It was not until the founding of The White House Historical Association in 1961 and its commitment to fund the acquisition of portraits of both presidents and first ladies for The White House that life portraits of the presidents were consistently commissioned for the collection. Currently, official portraits of the sitting president and the first lady are photographs until they leave The White House.

The nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside The White House, lies at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

George Washington (1796)
Gilbert Stuart
Theodore Roosevelt (1903)
John Singer Sargent

Monday, January 14, 2013

Art in The First Family's Private Quarters at The White House

With each new Administration, the first family fills their private living quarters and office space with art from the Smithsonian and The White House art collection. The Obamas share their daily life with a rich mix of American artists across a wide range of genres and artistic movements, choosing more modern and abstract work than has ever hung on The White House walls.

The collection they assembled, with advice from White House and local museum curators, includes 45 pieces borrowed from various Washington museums and galleries including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery of Art. The artists include Josef Albers, Richard Diebenkorn, Edgar Degas, Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns, William H. Johnson, Alma Thomas, and many others.

Berkeley No. 52 (1955)
Richard Diebenkorn
Watusi (Hard Edge) (1963)
Alma Thomas




















The president is even showcasing American ingenuity in the Oval Office by displaying three mechanical devices on loan from the National Museum of American History's patent collection: models for Samuel Morse's 1849 telegraph register, John Peer's 1874 gear-cutting machine, and Henry Williams' 1877 feathering paddlewheel for steamboats. President Obama chose more traditional Oval Office artwork including Childe Hassam's The Avenue in the Rain, an impressionist view of New York's flag-bedecked Fifth Avenue, and Norman Rockwell's colorful Statue of Liberty (seen below), in addition to several presidential portraits.

Oval Office Detail of Frederic Remington 
sculpture The Bronco Buster 
and Rockwell’s Statue of Liberty
Detail of Oval Office bookshelf with
Native American pottery
and patent samples























Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Kennedys | Art in Camelot

In January 1961, the new residents of the White House were young, sophisticated, and attractive. The Kennedys abolished several old social conventions and focused on bringing the arts to Washington and the White House. Soon after their arrival, Jacqueline Kennedy began a complete restoration of the White House that captivated the American people, culminating in a 1962 televised tour led by the first lady with over 80 million viewers. In conjunction with the National Park Service, the president and first lady created the White House Historical Association to forever preserve and record its history and the persons and events associated with it. 

It was discovered during the research that took place for the renovation that eight paintings by Paul C├ęzanne had been bequeathed to The White House. When Mrs. Kennedy found that those paintings were hanging in the National Gallery of Art, she successfully wrestled them from the Gallery with much disapproval from its then director. She had them installed in the newly renovated Green Room.

John F. Kennedy (1963)
Elaine de Kooning
Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery
Chronicled in a November 2008 Vanity Fair article and a book, Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation, the first lady masterminded America's first blockbuster art show with the exhibition of Mona Lisa in New York and Washington. For several weeks, nearly two million visitors stood in long lines to catch a glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art. 

Five days prior to the presidential couple’s fateful trip to Dallas in November 1963, descriptions of the presidential suite at Fort Worth's Hotel Texas were released to the public. Unhappy with the couple’s accommodations, a Fort Worth art critic proposed installing art in the presidential "suite." Drawing on local private and public art collections, each room of the suite was outfitted with works of art that befitted the tastes and interests of the president and first lady. It included works by Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Franz Kline, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, among others. But, they arrived so late that evening they didn't notice the significant artwork until the morning. The Kennedys were awestruck when they realized this extraordinary exhibition and called the organizers to thank them. 

The president was assassinated later that day. Dallas Museum of Art will bring together 14 of the 16 works displayed in the presidential suite in an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination later this year. 

I am certain that after the dust of centuries 
has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered  not for victories or defeats in 
battle or in politics, but for our contribution 
to the human spirit.      President John F. Kennedy


The Green Room | Art and The White House

My favorite public room at The White House is the Green Room. This intimate room with its green silk-covered walls is one of three parlors on the State Floor. The windows look out over the South Lawn toward the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, adjoining the East Room, the Blue Room, and the Cross Hall on the first floor of the mansion.


Rich in historical significance and utilized in various ways by the presidents and first ladies, the art that adorns the walls of the Green Room is a microcosm of American art history. Works by George Bellows, John Marin, John Singer Sergant, and Gilbert Stuart comfortably reside together in this room's collection. Also hanging in the Green Room is Henry Ossawa Tanner's Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, the first work by an African American artist to be added to the permanent White House collection.

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885) | Henry Ossawa Tanner


Three Children (1919) | George Bellows

The Builders (1947) | Jacob Lawrence
The Circus No. 1 (1950) | John Marin

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Oval Office | Roy Lichtenstein

The Oval Office (1992)
Roy Lichtenstein | Color Screenprint 
National Gallery of Art, Washington

To celebrate Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective and the upcoming inauguration, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, installed Lichtenstein's print The Oval Office (1992). Commissioned as part of the Artists for Freedom of Expression project to benefit the Democratic National Committee during the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign, the print was later chosen as one of six commemorative inaugural posters by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The inaugural poster was reproduced with the heading "A New Generation of Leadership" prior to the Democratic National Convention and also made into a campaign button.

Lichtenstein studied the interior of the Oval Office at the White House to accurately include decorative details such as the paintings that once hung on the walls. In January 1993, after the print and poster were issued, Lichtenstein completed the painting The Oval Office.  A color screenprint was a gift to the Gallery from Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein in 1996.



Friday, January 4, 2013

New U.S. Postage Stamps Commemorate Modern Art in America


With this sheet of 12 Modern Art in America 1913-1931 (Forever®) stamps, the U.S. Postal Service commemorates a dozen modern artists and their works, 100 years after the groundbreaking Armory Show opened in New York in 1913.

The dozen masterpieces reproduced on the stamp pane were created between 1912 and 1931 and include:
  • House and Street (1931) | Stuart Davis
  • I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928) | Charles Demuth
  • The Prodigal Son (1927) | Aaron Douglas
  • Fog Horns (1929) | Arthur Dove 
  • Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) | Marcel Duchamp 
  • Painting, Number 5 (1914-15) | Marsden Hartley
  • Sunset, Maine Coast (1919) | John Marin
  • Razor (1924) | Gerald Murphy
  • Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie's II (1930) | Georgia O’Keeffe 
  • Noire et Blanche (1926) | Man Ray 
  • American Landscape (1930) | Charles Sheeler
  • Brooklyn Bridge (1919-20) | Joseph Stella


The International Exhibition of Modern Art, known as the Armory Show, opened in New York City on February 17, 1913. This exhibit, held at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street, presented more than a thousand works, about a third of them by European artists.

At the Armory Show, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 excited derision as well as admiration. Duchamp and other European painters greatly influenced American artists, including those who created the works shown on this stamp pane. Like Duchamp, who became a U.S. citizen, modern art—and modernity itself—soon found a congenial home in America.

The stamp sheet also includes a quote by Marcel Duchamp and verso text that identifies each work of art and briefly tells something about each artist. Art director Derry Noyes worked on the stamp sheet with designer Margaret Bauer.

Check out my previous blog post about the children's book written and illustrated in response to the Armory Show here.