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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

William Jefferson Clinton Portraits

President William Jefferson Clinton, official White House portrait, 2002, Simmie Knox
It's hard for me to be unbiased in writing this Despite his faults, I really like Bill Clinton. Today is his sixty-ninth birthday. He was a better than average, even what many historians deem a "good" president, though there is seldom any kind on consensus on such a loose, subjective evaluation as that. As his painted portraits suggest, he is quite photogenic, personable, likeable, and charismatic man. Like most presidents he is politically astute and idealistic. And, needless to say, neither he, nor most of the other men who have ever held the office, got there by being anything less than one of the brighter star on the flag. His official White House Portrait (above) by the African-American portrait artist, Simmie Knox, captures both the dignity and engaging warmth of the man.

President Bill Clinton, 2015, Nelson Shanks
Nelson Shanks, NPG Clinton portrait artist.
The second "official" portrait of any president is the one hanging in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) housed in the old Patent Office Building at 8th and F Streets NW in Washington, D.C. However in Clinton's case, there are two there featuring his visage, one having to do with the man, the other having to do with the artist who painted him. The "official" version (above) is by Nelson Shanks (left), the controversial "shadow" portrait. The shadow on the fireplace is said by the artist to reference the infamous Monica Lewinsky "blue dress." The second Clinton portrait in the NPG collection is by Chuck Close (below), painted in 2006, using the abstracted grid (below, left) which has become the hallmark of his work since he suffered spinal artery collapse in December, 1988, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Rehabilitation therapy has restored some use of his limbs but he remains wheelchair bound.

Bill Clinton, 2006, Chuck Close

Bill Clinton (detail), 2006,
Chuck Close
Starting with Close, but by no means limited to his heroic effort, the unofficial presidential portraits are often more interesting than the rather staid, static versions which hang on the stately walls of the White House or the NPG. Two of the more amazing and amusing of these feature Clinton as the famed, Florentine statesman, Lorenzo De' Medici (below, left) and the man for whom he was named, President Thomas Jefferson (below, right). Although the artist has done many such portraits of the currently famous people imposed upon the historically famous, I've been unable to ascertain any positive attribution. If anyone is familiar with this artist's work, I'd like to know.

Lorenzo De' Medici Clinton                                                 Thomas Jefferson Clinton
I was especially impressed with Linda Rufo's up-close and personal pastel portrait of the former president (below, left). Being a pencil portrait artist, I've never been one to render the rich and famous on paper (or canvas either, now that I think about it), but I do have to admire the lively pencil work of Murphy Elliot's Bill Clinton (below, right). And in keeping with tradition, there's Simmie Knox's official White House portrait of Bill Clinton's First Lady (bottom). Knox is getting up in years (79, as of yesterday, August 18, 2015). I have to wonder if he'll be called upon to paint Hillary again as President.

President Bill Clinton by Murphy Elliott
Portrait of Bill Clinton, Linda Rufo
First Lady Hillary Clinton,
Official White House portrait, 2002, Simmie Knox.

You know you have a dedicated
Democrat when you spot someone
with a portrait of Bill Clinton tattooed
on his arm (below, left). I wonder
if he has Hillary on the other arm.



  1. What a coincidence! I just finished reading 'My Life' by Bill Clinton. He is my favorite american president. He did a lot of good things - Family Leave act, Brady Bill and turned the economy around. I think he deserved to be treated better.

  2. Raj--

    Thanks for writing. I agree, and I think he will be regarded in a more accurate light once there is no longer political "hay" to be made by pouncing on his wife and the two of them as a couple. Presidents are always seen more favorably once they've been out of office several years (even George W). Were it not for Bill Clinton's possible return to the White House as the "first gentleman," that would probably already be the case with him as well.