What George W. Bush Was Thinking When He Painted Vladimir Putin

The former, who took up the hobby after leaving office, unveiled new paintings of world leaders on the Today Show on Friday.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
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Brian Resnick
April 4, 2014, 4:43 a.m.

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“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.”

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