"There's a Rembrandt trapped in this body."
That was the challenge the former president George W. Bush presented his painting instructor, Bush told NBC's Today Show Friday morning while unveiling a collection of his artwork, on display at his presidential library in Dallas. He wanted that inner painter to come out.
While the paintings don't have the dramatic contrasts and photo realism of, let's say, "The Nightwatch," their pleasant pastels do, accurately, depict their subjects: world leaders.
Bush has become one of the more interesting former presidents. Jimmy Carter builds houses. Bill Clinton focuses on the developing world. But George W. Bush paints. And everyone around him is surprised. "Who would've thought it?" the former president said during the interview, conducted by his daughter, and NBC special correspondent, Jenna Bush Hager. We "never knew," his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush told the Today hosts, in reaction.
World leaders don't know how to react to the hobby either. Staring at a painting of Tony Blair, Bush told his daughter, "I think I told him I was painting him and brushed it off, so to speak."
An art pun! This guy gets it.
The most noteworthy painting of the morning was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin, not because of its passable likeness, but because of the analysis from the artist.
"As you know, our dear dog Barney had a special spot in my heart," the former president said. "I introduced him to Putin; Putin kind of dissed him. 'You call that a dog?' A year later, your mom and I go to visit, and he'd say, 'You like to meet my dog?' Out bounds this huge hound. And Putin says 'bigger, stronger and faster than Barney.' "
His daughter pressed for more. "And you kind of thought, 'Is this symbolic?'"
"I took it in. I didn't react," Bush said. "Wow, anybody who thinks 'My dog is bigger than your dog' is an interesting character. And that painting kind of reflects that."