George W. Bush unveiled his paintings of world leaders on Friday during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show with daughter Jenna Bush Hager. The occasion for their display was the opening of a new exhibit called “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy," at ex-President Bush’s library in Dallas. As he strolled though the gallery with Ms. Hager and camera in tow, Mr. Bush said he’s pretty sure his subjects don’t have high hopes for their portraits.
“I’m sure they’re going to say ... I look forward to seeing the stick figure he painted,” said Bush.
They weren’t, in fact, stick figures. Bush’s painting skills seem to be developing from his early self-portraits and depictions of pets. Art critics have taken a fairly charitable view of W.’s efforts, given he’s been at it for only a short time. Bush’s work is “surprisingly non-terrible,” wrote Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner last year.
Bush’s self-portrait leads off the exhibit and looks pretty good. His painting of Vladimir Putin is a bit cartoon-like, but then President Putin himself is a bit of a cartoon depiction of an authoritarian post-Soviet leader, so maybe that’s intentional. On “Today,” Bush retold the story of how he got along with Putin fine, but that at one point the Russian president dissed Bush’s dog, Barney the Scottish terrier.
“You really call that dog?” Putin said, according to Bush.
Later Putin introduced Bush to his own pet, a large hound-like dog that bounded across the lawn of his dacha as if it were retaking Crimea.
“Putin looks and me and says, ‘Bigger, stronger, faster than Barney,’ ” said Bush.
Other world leader portraits by W. included Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who looked surprisingly trustworthy in oil; Tony Blair of Great Britain, a Bush friend who looked resolute in W.’s depiction; the Dalai Lama; Junichiro Koizuma, former prime minister of Japan; and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States.
“That’s my husband?” joked Barbara Bush upon seeing the painting of her husband on “Today." Yes, the network landed the whole family. It’s not that hard when you employ one of them. (Hager is an NBC correspondent.)
Actually, the painting of Bush’s dad was pretty good. Bush said it was his favorite.
“It was a joyful experience to paint him,” said Bush.
The fact that his dad got such a big mention is surely not happenstance. Bush is promoting his paintings at a time when the whole Bush family is on something of a public relations upswing. A big part of this is the growing recognition, with the passage of time, that George H.W. Bush was a pretty good chief executive at a pivotal moment in history.
He handled the Gulf War skillfully, holding together a broad international coalition and limiting US aims. (Yes, you can compare that with his son’s Iraq war diplomacy if you want.) He did not mess up the US response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This weekend, George H.W. Bush’s own presidential library is holding a three-day reunion to mark the 25th anniversary of his administration.
George H.W. Bush “has benefited from a wave of historical revisionism that has transformed him from the biggest incumbent loser since William Howard Taft to, by at least one measure, the most popular former president of the past half century,” writes Peter Baker of The New York Times on Friday.
Meanwhile, W.’s brother Jeb Bush is getting some attention from GOP establishment figures as somebody who might be the party’s best choice as a nominee for 2016.
Gee, do you think that’s got anything to do with the big rollout for the painting exhibit? Maybe that’s cynical Washington thinking. Maybe it isn’t.
Finally, George P. Bush, Jeb's son, ran away with the Texas GOP primary for land commissioner, in a vote widely viewed as the launch of yet another generation of Bushes in politics.
“The former first family has been making a splash lately.... Given that the family might put forth another presidential candidate, all this publicity can’t be a bad thing, right?” writes Katie Zezima on the Washington Post “Fix” political blog Friday.