The unveiling of the portraits of the Obamas for the National Portrait Gallery puts me in mind of Winston Churchill’s reaction to the ghastly Graham Sutherland portrait (left) presented to him for his 80th birthday, which Churchill (a talented painter in his own right, keep in mind—see his great short essay “Painting as a Pastime”) called “a remarkable example of modern art,” to much laughter in the audience. That was, of course, his way of saying he didn’t like it. Clementine Churchill later had the painting destroyed in a backyard bonfire, which the artist, Sutherland, complained bitterly was “an act of vandalism.”
The real vandalism was letting Sutherland paint Churchill in the first place. And ponder the vandalism that is the official portraits the Obamas apparently chose for themselves and approve. You may think the Obamas simply have no taste, but the departure from the traditional mode of presidential portraits is yet another subtle signal of their contempt for American traditions. They won’t have the good sense to throw these ghastly portraits on a bonfire. (And remember: Trump is vulgar.)
To the contrary, these portraits fuel the bonfire of their vanities, especially their vanity of being different and better than the ordinary run of Americans and the presidents they followed. Just take a look, and spot the one that doesn’t belong:
This seems to be an impulse for liberals. I know I have shown it before, but take in Gov. Jerry Brown’s official portrait that hangs in the California capitol building from his first turn as governor in the 1980s:
I often wondered, back when I lived in Sacramento and I liked to spring this portrait on visitors without warning (usually provoking gasps), what would happen if I attached a piece of bubble gum on the tip of Brown’s nose. How many months would go by before someone wondered whether it belonged there?
The good news is that the Obama portraits are already coming in for heavy mockery from all sides, and hence providing Power Line with a surfeit of material for a modified, special Tuesday edition of “the Weak in Pictures.” We begin with the real articles, and then descend from there.
Though as Glenn Reynolds likes to point out, these should have been their portraits:
And it could have been worse, folks:
And hey, since this is the Week in Pictures, who cares if this is off topic. And finally. . .