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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Jimmy Carter Portraits

Jimmy Carter Official White House portrait, 1982, Herbert E. Abrams.
Happy Birthday, Jimmy. Today, former president James Earl Carter Jr. is ninety-one years of age, the second oldest living ex-president (after George H.W. Bush who is 110 days older). Both were born in 1924. Elected by a very modest majority in 1976, he was defeated for re-election by a very substantial majority in 1980. Historians have not dealt kindly with Carter largely because of the Iranian hostage crisis during the last years of his presidency, and the disastrous rescue attempt in 1980. Recently in an interview, Carter revealed his one greatest regret was that he did not send just one more helicopter (two aircraft were lost, eight servicemen died in the attempt). By and large, artists have been far more kind to the former president than have pundits. His official White House portrait (above) is by Herbert E. Abrams. Abrams has also painted the official portraits of three other presidents--Herbert Hoover, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton--as well as former first lady, Barbara Bush. His work is well-represented in the White House, surpassed in number only by G.P.A. Healy who painted eleven--John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Willard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Chester A. Arthur.
Jimmy Carter, 1978, National Portrait Gallery, Robert Clark Templeton
As with all other American Presidents, Jimmy Carter's portrait also hangs in Washington's National Portrait Gallery (above). This one is a full-length depiction by Robert Clark Templeton set in the oval office as it appeared during Carter's four-year presidency. Like most other presidential portraits at the NPG, Templeton's is less formal than those in the White House, which (with a few exceptions) tend to fit a rather conservative model. Templeton's work, as compared to other presidential artists, Templeton is good, though in no way exceptional.
Everett Raymond Kinstler at work on the Carter portrait, 2008.
Another frequent painter of presidents is Everett Raymond Kinstler, who has also painted Carter, though not in any official capacity. His 2008 portrait (above) is interesting because of Kinstler's customary loose, painterly brushwork, but also the fact that he was photographed as he worked on Carter's portrait. The result is a warm, almost glowing, image of the aging former president. I was surprised to find that Jimmy Carter also paints. Like former president George W. Bush, he also paints self-portraits (though not in the bathtub). Judging from Carter's self-portrait (below) set in his woodworking shop, I'd say that both former presidents are about equally talented.

Self-portrait by former president Jimmy Carter in his studio, painted in 2009
As usual, these unofficial portraits of the presidents are often the most intriguing. Visually, Jimmy Carter was probably most famous for his broad, winning smile. Templeton and both the official portrait painters have wisely played down this characteristic facial feature, which veers very close to a caricature. The unofficial artists, usually working from photos, do not, as seen in Lou Ortiz's pencil portrait (below, left) and Robert Peak's lively 1977 watercolor (below, right).

President Jimmy Carter, Lou Ortiz
Jimmy Carter, 1977, Robert Peak

Jimmy Carter, 1976, Andy Warhol
A rather more famous artist than these two also took the time to depict the sitting president as seen in the characteristic style of Andy Warhol, from 1976, shortly after Carter's election. There's no toothy grin in this one, but a rather "deer in the headlights" worried stare as the then newly-elected chief executive began to come to grips with the multitude of domestic and international crises facing the nation. After some thirty-five years, what we call these problems has changed, but the underlying causes remain much the same.
Rosalynn Carter White House Portrait, 1984, George Augusta
Note: G.P.A. Healy notwithstanding, Missouri artist, Andy Thomas, has probably painted more portraits of presidents than any other artists. However, his work is not likely to be hanging in the oval office any time soon. Like the artist, C.M. Coolidge, famous for his dogs playing poker, Andy Thomas, famous for his western scenes, features paintings of presidents playing poker (and pool). To avoid unpleasant political confrontations, Thomas very wisely keeps his presidents separated by political affiliation, as seen in his Grand Ole Gang (below) with its eight republicans seeming to have a raucous laugh triggered by Abe Lincoln's famously dry sense of humor. In contrast, Thomas paints the democratic presidents (all nine of them) playing pool, apparently amused by the wit and wisdom of Andrew Jackson. That's seventeen altogether. If I were president, I'd hang the originals side by side just inside the front door of the White House.

The Grand Ole Gang, Andy Thomas

Callin' the Red, Andy Thomas

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