Andy Thomas’ portraits of the presidents

Andy Thomas is an artist noted for his popular group portraits of Republican and Democratic Presidents.   He makes interesting choices in how he portrays them, which I will discuss.  Read on only if you are interested in political and historical trivia.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge.

The light in the two paintings is from above, and falls on the faces of Donald Trump (white shirt, red tie) and Barack Obama (white shirt, blue tie).

Abraham Lincoln, the first and greatest of the Republican presidents, is shown with his back to the viewer.  Franklin D. Roosevelt, arguably the greatest of the Democratic presidents, is shown likewise.  But Andrew Jackson, the first Democratic president, is shown off to the upper left side and in shadow.

When I was younger, Democrats honored Jackson as one who stood up for the common man, or at least the common white man, against wealthy merchants and powerful bankers.  We overlooked his being a slave owner and respected him for being an Indian fighter.  That’s not how liberals and progressives think today.

Jackson, by the way, was the first President to be nominated at a party convention.  All the previous Presidents were nominated at congressional caucuses.

Notice that Obama is looking away from Jackson and also from Woodrow Wilson at the far right of the painting.  When I was younger, Democrats honored Wilson as a political reformer and overlooked the fact that he was a segregationist.  Not any more!

Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson are dressed formally.  We can’t see, but I assume that Lincoln’s and FDR’s suit coats are buttoned and they are wearing neckties.  

Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are shown in ties and vests, as they might do working in an office a century ago.  Donald Trump and Barack Obama also are dressed for office work.  So is Bill Clinton, although Clinton does not appear to have a tie.

Richard Nixon almost always wore a dark suit, but he is shown here with his suit jacket unbuttoned and I’m guessing he’s not wearing a necktie.  The older George H.W. Bush, standing, and the younger George W. Bush, seated, are shown wearing suits, but without neckties.

Harry Truman‘s white shirt and light-colored vest show him also dressed for work.  In one of Thomas’ older paintings, he is shown in the kind of flamboyant Hawaiian shirt he wore during vacations in Key West.

Dwight D. Eisenhower is dressed as if getting ready to play golf.  John F. Kennedy is dressed as if getting ready for a day on his yacht.  

Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson are dressed as if getting ready for a day at their respective ranches.  Gerald Ford is dressed for leisure generically.

Jimmy Carter is dressed as if getting ready for a day’s work in the family peanut warehouse or on a Habitat for Humanity project.  In one of Thomas’ older paintings, he is shown in a cardigan sweater of the kind he wore when giving a TV address on energy conservation.

The choice of beverages for the Presidents also is interesting.  Donald Trump is a non-drinker and is shown with a Coke.  George W. Bush struggled with a drinking problem before he went into politics and has what looks like iced tea.  Abraham Lincoln has a glass of water.

Richard Nixon is the only wine-drinker.  He was fond of expensive wines such as Chateau Lafitte Rothschild.

Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy are shown as the only beer drinkers.  Obama’s beer may be a reference to his “beer summit” with the black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and the white police Sgt. James Crowley, who caused a national uproar by arresting Gates at his home for trivial reasons.  

Kennedy was not a beer drinker in real life.  He reportedly liked Bloody Marys and daiquiris. 

Theodore Roosevelt liked mint juleps.  Ronald Reagan liked something called an Orange Blossom Special, made with orange juice, vodka and sweet vermouth.  The rest seem to be drinking whiskey.

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If you look closely at the paintings, especially if you enlarge them, you see other Republican and Democratic presidents in the background.  I can identify some of them, but not all.

At the top left of the Republican painting, you can see Ulysses S. Grant, who led the Union army to victory in the Civil War and served two terms as President.  

The man with the heavy black beard is James A. Garfield, another Union general, who was assassinated 200 days after taking office.  The stout man to the left of Gerald Ford is William Howard Taft.

At the top right of the GOP painting is Calvin Coolidge.  Herbert Hoover is between Theodore Roosevelt and the post.  

The figure between Coolidge and Roosevelt has been identified as Warren G. Harding, but my guess is that it is William McKinley, a more noteworthy figure and also the first clean-shaven Republican President.

I have more trouble identifying the figures in the background of the Democratic painting.  The stout man to the left of Woodrow Wilson is Grover Cleveland, the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms.

My guess is that the figure between Andrew Jackson and the pillar is James K. Polk, a protegé of Jackson’s, who was responsible for the annexation of Texas, the conquest of the Southwest from Mexico and the acquisition of the Oregon Territory.

Both paintings show a woman striding purposefully forward to the Presidents’ table.  Thomas said in an interview that she is the future first Republican and / or Democratic female President and is based on his daughter.

Click to enlarge

LINKS

Artist surprised his fantasy painting of Trump is hanging in the White House by Dartunarro Clark for NBC News.

There’s a subtle feminist message in this new painting of Donald Trump by Ryan Teague Beckwith for Time magazine.

Trump’s Republican Club painting and what it means by Nick Hilton for Medium.

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