Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The White House Collection of Presidential Romance Novel Cover Portraits

When George Washington became the first president of the United States, he was worried that the people of America would not accept him as a strong, unifying leader. To make sure he was seen as someone worthy of being in charge of the country, he had a portrait commissioned by one of the greatest artists in the country at that time. Being wary of the public’s suspicion of the English monarchy, Washington paid the artist to paint him in a scene that would show the American public his strength, sensitivity and intelligence. He was painted as the hero in the cover to a romance novel.

Since then, one of the lesser known parts of the constitution makes it essential for all American presidents to have their portraits painted in this way. Until now, the pictures have been hidden away along a corridor of the White House, seen only by the presidents themselves and their families (and lovers!), but now the collection has been released for a world tour, and I was at the press premiere, like a dashing international playboy/thief.

The paintings show a wealth of different artistic talent from the decades of American history. Each canvas shows a world leader in a different romantic pose, their muscles bulging and with a fair maiden in their arms. All bosoms are understandably ample.

It is interesting to note the personalities of the presidents shining through in each picture. John F. Kennedy, for example, is shown as a dashing buccaneer, swinging on a rope from ship to ship with a knife between his teeth and a buxom blonde in his large, muscled arm. The expression of intent and fearless derring-do in his eyes looks all the more tragic with the benefit of hindsight.

Fast forward some decades and George W. Bush’s romance novel portrait looks somewhat odd in comparison. The reason for this, undoubtedly, is that the current president did not adequately explain the purpose of the picture to the artist, and Mister Bush was painted as the damsel in distress, rather than the hero. The wags present at the exhibition commented on how prescient the artist must have been. I stifled a giggle.

The delight in many of these paintings comes from the details. For example, note in the portrait of Bill Clinton (reproduced here), the bulge in his trousers as he clasps his arm around the infatuated redhead. The long knife in his other hand, situated to the left of the groin area, gives some impression of the size of what lies within Clinton’s tight beige pants.

Ronald Reagan’s portrait shows him dressed as a fire fighter, rescuing a nightgown-clad woman from a blazing building. What sets this painting apart from the rest of the collection is that while the females in the other paintings are universally attractive (allowing the American people to envision themselves as the second half of the President/Public Partnership that makes democracy), here Reagan is rescuing a rather aged, ugly woman. On closer inspection, the love interest appears to be Margaret Thatcher. An interesting and telling detail, and no mistaking.

All in all, this exhibition is a thoroughly enjoyable one, and shows off both the greatest romance novel cover artists of successive generations, as well as the way that American presidents were seen by them. If you can get over the disturbing nature of some of these pictures (The one portraying Richard Nixon as a Victorian-era Schoolmaster actually made me burp up a little bit of sick), there is a lot to enjoy here. And while you do, why not try to picture the next president of the US, whoever that may be, as the subject of a romance novel cover painting? It’s fun! Really it is!

The White House Collection of Presidential Romance Novel Cover Portraits will be travelling all over the world, starting in Australia on Monday, Japan on Tuesday, Russia on Wednesday, Germany on Friday (it’s having a rest on Thursday) and Mexico all weekend. Postcards are available, but none have pictures on them.

1 comment:

p0nk said...

bill has been pretty liberal with sunscreen on his face.

sorry to do this to you but you've been tagged.

sorry, but i don't know many people.