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Friday, August 10, 2012

Art by Ike

Eisenhower at his easel, painting his grandchildren.
One thing leads to another. In writing a few days ago about Churchill, I encountered paintings by Hitler, and also some by Dwight David Eisenhower. I even found a painting by Eisenhower of Churchill. I don't think either of them ever painted Hitler. However, they were both responsible for ending his art career. Of the three, I'd have to say Eisenhower was, technically, probably the best artist, though there are far fewer examples of his work than either of the other two leaders. Some people might take offense at my even speaking of these three artists in the same context. But then, art, like music, is a universal language embracing the good, the bad, and the extraordinarily ugly among men. These three had a lot in common. All three were politicians, all three rose to prominence in the 1940s, and all three were rank amateurs as painters, barely rising to the level of mediocre. There the similarities end. Hitler gave up the art profession to end his life as one of the most hated men of all time. Churchill and Eisenhower used art to relieve stress as talented amateurs, becoming two of the most beloved statesmen of all time.

The Telegraph Cottage, 1949, Dwight Eisenhower,
the building in England which served as his
home and headquarters during the war.
Unlike Churchill and Hitler, Eisenhower came rather late to his painting hobby.  He painted one or two scenes as gifts in Europe after the war, such as The Telegraph Cottage (right) in 1949, which he gave as a gift to his black valet, Sgt. John Moaney. However, for the most part, Ike seldom painted much until around 1955 when, as president, he became fascinated with the art while having his portrait painted. In fact, Ike was not afraid to try his hand at portraiture himself. One of his earliest works is, a portrait--a watercolor sketch of his wife, Mamie (below left). From that point on, he had a small studio installed on top floor of the White House where he developed his talent copying other paintings and working from photos.

Portrait of Mamie, 1952,
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Although Ike seems to have enjoyed his new hobby and to have developed his skills fairly rapidly, being president of the United States really eats into your time.  It wasn't until after he left office and settled down on his Gettysburg farm that he had began to pursue his hobby seriously. As compared to Churchill and Hitler, the former president was a much more versatile artist, and unlike Churchill, at least, seems to have been pretty much self-taught, though the landscape painter, Robert W. Wood, seems to have been an influence (below). The landscape below, probably painted while still  the White House, seems to be a somewhat freer, more colorful version of a Wood painting.

Eisenhower's version of Robert W. Wood is unlike any Wood painting I could find, but the similarity to his style is unmistakable.
Princess Anne, 1957,
Dwight Eisenhower

Moreover, as the portrait of Churchill, painted while Ike was hospitalized for a heart attack in 1955, would seem to indicate, the president was at his best when working from photos. His six weeks in the hospital, temporarily relieved of many of the duties of his office, may have been the impetus for him to once more try his hand at painting. A small, 1957 portrait of England's Princess Anne is exceptional for an amateur also busy being president. Likewise, the Churchill portrait (below) is a very good copy from a photo of a painting of the former Prime Minister by Arthur Pan. Ike showed the painting to Churchill in 1959 without his knowing who the artist was. Churchill, never one to mince words, commented: "...obviously painted by an amateur."
Eisenhower's Churchill, from 1955, supposedly a gift to his old wartime ally,
nonetheless remained in this country.

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