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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Dwight D. Eisenhower Portraits

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Official White House Portrait,1966,  J. Anthony Willis,
one of five copies.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president of whom I was really aware. I vaguely recall Harry Truman but he left office when I was a mere seven years old so, as you can imagine, my memories of him are, indeed, very vague. When I was about thirteen or fourteen, I painted a portrait of President Eisenhower. I'd be the first to admit it was a terrible portrait (and no, I'm not going to show it here) but there was a decent likeness. No one asked, "Who's that?" If you really want to see it, it's in my book Art THINK (available at right--chapter ten). Dwight David Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, on October 14, 1890. Today, October 14, 2015, would have been Ike's 125th birthday.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, White House Historical Assn., 1960, Thomas Edgar Stephens
J. Anthony Willis' portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower (top), painted in 1967, is a strange situation. In the first place, Willis also painted four copies, two of which are owned by unknown private individuals. However that's not the strangest part (Gilbert Stuart painted far more copies of his George Washington portraits). When checking with White House sources, they indicate that the portrait of Eisenhower (above) to be the "Official White House Portrait" of the former president. Moreover, credits Willis as the artist for both paintings while the White House Historical Association credits Thomas Edgar Stephens (1960) as the artist for the painting above. Could it be that in this case, there are two official White House presidential portraits? And if so, who painted them?

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Thomas Edgar Stephens,
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
General Dwight D Eisenhower,
1947, Thomas Edgar Stephens
What's a poor blogger to do? At first I thought the confusion might lie in my having mixed up the White House image(s) with that of the National Portrait Gallery; but, in fact, they have hanging on their walls a standing, three-quarter length portrait painted by Thomas Edgar Stephens (above). If there's any mixing up involved, I'm not the one doing it. Stephens had painted Eisenhower as far back as 1947 (right) the year before the WW II military leader was to retire from the army as a five-star general. Fortunately, the portraits of Mamie Eisenhower (below) are far simpler. Both the corner paintings having been done by Thomas Edgar Stephens. The center image was painted of his wife by the Ike himself, who became an amateur artist the last twenty years of his life.

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, painted by Thomas Edgar Stephens in 1948 and 1959.
Adlai E. Stevenson, 1952,
Norman Rockwell
Despite J. Anthony Willis having apparently painted President Eisenhower as many as five or six times, no artist had a more intimate relationship with Ike than did Norman Rockwell. Eisenhower and Rockwell rose to public prominence at roughly the same time and pace. Around 1952, Rockwell went from painting amusing Americana for Saturday Evening Post covers to painting the top political figures of the 1950s beginning with Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson and culminating with Johnson and Goldwater some twelve years later. Rockwell painted Ike four times (below) capturing varying aspects of Eisenhower's personality from his trademark grin to his imperious scowl. Stevenson he painted only once (right). Both Rockwell and Eisenhower were cut from the same conservative cloth; and Rockwell was said to have been one of Eisenhower's staunchest supporters. A Post editor once suggested that Rockwell's grinning 1952 cover alone may have won Ike the presidency.

Rockwell's four Eisenhowers.
Eisenhower Portrait Bust,
(in progress), Zenos Frudakis
Eisenhower-Nixon Portrait
NPG, 1956, James Chapin

Click below for a discourse by Frudakis on the creation of the Eisenhower bust.



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