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George W. Bush's portraits of veterans evoke both controversy and praise

'Portraits of Courage' – 66 oil paintings and a four-panel mural of veterans and active service members, all painted by Bush – will be published early next year.

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    'Portraits of Courage' will also include stories written by Bush about each of his subjects.
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George W. Bush's forthcoming book will be unlike any book he – or any other US president – has ever written. It's not a biography, or a policy tome, but rather, a book of paintings by the former president-turned-painter.

“Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors” will honor military personnel with 66 oil paintings and a four-panel mural of veterans and active service members, all painted by the former president. The book will be published Feb. 28, 2017.

“This is a book about the men and women who have been tremendous national assets in the Armed Forces – and who continue to be vital to the future success of our country,” Bush writes in the introduction. “The greatest honor of the presidency was looking them in the eye and saluting them as their Commander in Chief. And I intend to support and salute them for the rest of my life.”

In addition to an introduction by Bush and forewords by former first lady Laura Bush and by Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the book will also have stories written by Bush about each of his subjects.

“As the stories unfold – some of them inspiring, some of them heartbreaking – readers will encounter the faces and the hearts of those who answered the nation’s call and learn from their bravery on the battlefield, their journeys to recovery, and the continued leadership and contributions they are making as civilians,” the publisher’s statement reads.

News of the book drew some harsh criticism.

"As part of a continuing effort to paint over his legacy as a war criminal and the worst US president ever, George W. Bush will soon publish an art book," writes art and culture site Hyperallergic. "Not featured: paintings of prisoners held without trial at Guantanamo Bay, paintings of the millions of Americans who lost their homes during the 2008 financial crisis, or paintings of 'the ghost of the Iraqi child that follows him everywhere.'"

New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz has called Bush's art "sentimental," "border[ing] on the visionary, the absurd, the perverse, the frat boy." He also cited Peter Plagens who called the new hobby "a clever political maneuver by the forces of the Right (a.k.a. the Republican Party) to soften the Bush name so that Jeb can make a presidential run."

But Bush's work has also garnered praise from media outlets like the The Washington Post and personalities like Kanye West.

Perhaps, more than anything, it's offered people a glimpse into a completely different side of the former president.

Bush’s latest hobby has been “the most interesting thing about his post-Presidential public life,” wrote The New Yorker.

Bush “paints in a similar fashion to the way he talks – affecting a folksy, homespun, plain-speaking tone, with just enough ham-fisted strangeness and bungling missteps to keep things interesting," the Telegraph wrote in 2014.

"Portraits of Courage" may work to shift the focus from the artist to the subjects, all active military members or veterans.

His office said Bush is donating all net author proceeds to the George W. Bush Presidential Center and its Military Service Initiative, which helps post-Sept. 11 veterans and their families’ transition to civilian life.

“His hope in sharing these portraits is that other veterans and everyday Americans are inspired to overcome any obstacles they may face and live life to the fullest,” Bush’s office said in a statement. 

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