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June 1, 2012

Portrait of Bush

I was looking at photos from the White House portrait unveiling yesterday, and thinking how different they could be. Above we have Bush with Bush by AP’s Charles Dharapak. That’s the Bush we’re familiar with, the body language like a goof, Dubya also looking a little washed out since the Oval Office days.

In marked contrast, this is a quite a rare shot of Bush by AP’s Carolyn Kaster. It offers Dubya not only not looking like a goof, but appearing reflective even, wistful. And where was he the whole time? …Maybe there’s some recognition in Bush’s reaction about how portrait’s lie, the painting — representing a gravitas he never achieved — burying the smirk forever.

  • ColinN

    The portrait looks shabby… centuries old. Is this painting collecting all the tarnishing that Bush’s real-life reputation manages to shrug off?

  • John Zorabedian

    He always wanted to be a cowboy. Now he gets John Wayne/Reagan treatment in the portrait.

    • jonst

       I would guess he never wanted to be a “cowboy”.  However, I believe he desperately wanted us to THINK he was a “cowboy”. 

  • Matt

    i’m just surprised the portrait is set in the oval office.

    i’d almost expected to see a painting of gwb atop wtc rubble, bullhorn in hand.

  • steve laudig

    he’s beginning to look a lot like Tony Blair and vice versa. Boozing will show up in broken blood vessels and a redness around the nose.

  • glenn

    Still smirking.

  • Ralph

    The first photo is an excellent portrait of a wobbly drunk held in place by his wife.  The shit-eating grin says it all.

  • bks


  • Adam Belmar

    Come on Michael.  Are you reading the pictures or projecting here?

    • Michael Shaw

      Hey Adam, I admit some attitude and judgement is showing through. If I were to rewrite the post, however, I think that the two photos (of the “live” Bushs) are both telling. In the first, we see the Bush who acted (in the swagger and the smirk) more like a boy than a man. (Did he ever call you “Adam,” by the way, or just some locker room moniker?)   In the second photo, we are afforded a rare moment where he is introspective and sensitive. Maybe you saw more of this side working around him in the White House, but the public didn’t, and — watching him as closely as I did — I didn’t get the feeling (until, maybe, the very end of his second term) that he identified with these deeper emotional qualities or capabilities all that much, either. 

      Overall, though, I’m mostly trying to juxtapose the different qualities the pictures pick up rather than do that thorough an analysis.

  • karen h

    Notice that in the portrait he has his hand on the imperial chair and that it –and his suit have schmuz on them. And I don’t think his face has the expression of a “decider” on it. It’s something more tentative. Don’t think the painter liked him.

  • Rima

    Portrait of Dorian W. Gray

  • Michael Shaw

    If the glare gets in the way, the painting behind Bush in the portrait is 43’s beloved “A Charge to Keep.”  The Bag discussed the painting and Bush’s fondness for it in this post back in January 2005.  At least for the first years of his presidency, he would point it out and describe it often to White House visitors:

  • Sirius_TheStarDog

    No amount of lipstick will ever change the fact…WPE.

  • Lenox

    Not sure which one is being ‘held up’.

  • tchdab1

    GWB as a public persona is totally amazing. He is of course a President/ex-President, yet it’s impossible for him to avoid looking like a complete smirking imbecile for even a second, for just one snapshot.

    He may be ultimate proof that the art of public relations has hard limits, that we are manipulated by creatures of evil, or that the human soul can instantly identify a bad witch despite the best efforts of the most highly paid to put a blossom on the turd of exploitation.

    He really is an amazing piece of art for the new millennium.

  • Gasho

    All mankind should weep at seeing these pictures. The worst War Criminal in Ages gets to enjoy the unveiling of his very own image in honor of his fine tenure at the helm of the great nation.  Disaster. 

    And he does look pleased and natural when gazing upon himself, because, to him, that’s what his presidency was about — HIM !!  Unbelievable. Disgusting. 

    He started a war of choice. I for one, will never never forget it. He won’t have such a great time trying to enter Heaven, I dare say.

  • Adam Belmar

    I hope you will take the time to watch the video.  It was a very nice event.  Best, AB.

  • Michael Shaw

    But clearly you’re looking at the event through the lens of sentimentality and nostalgia. 

    The event not only presumes that Bush deserved a welcome back, its expressed purpose was to enshrine an image/representation of him for the ages. Do you seriously believe, however (and, you might) that this painting captures the man they way he pursued the office?  I look at that painting and see a statesman, a visionary, an idealist. I could understand if that’s the way you wanted to spruce up Carter, but…That’s why I think the second photo is so fabulous. I wouldn’t know without asking him, but I imagine Bush is all-too impressed, moved I’d say, by how the painter made him out. (More like his Dad, I guess.) You can love Bush, though, and still not buy that depiction. If the painter was going to idealize him, he or she could still have done it in terms of the agressive and non-reflective “decider” he (boasted he) was.  Yes, I have my axe to grind, but you’re one of the most astute readers of political communications I know, and I’d love to hear what you really think of that painting, not just my bias.

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