Portrait of Dwight Eisenhower

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Portrait of Dwight Eisenhower

United States, 1959
Drawings
Gouache, watercolor, and graphite on natural colored vellum
Frame: 18 3/4 × 17 5/8 × 2 1/4 in. (47.63 × 44.77 × 5.72 cm)
Gift of Dwight D. Eisenhower (M.64.67)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Wyeth has always been reluctant to accept commissions, and his most famous portraits are of his friends and neighbors....
Wyeth has always been reluctant to accept commissions, and his most famous portraits are of his friends and neighbors. Nevertheless, he accepted the commission to paint the portrait of President Eisenhower for the cover illustration of the September 7, 1959, issue of Time magazine. Eisenhower sat for the portrait at his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for short periods over the course of five days in August 1959. In characteristic fashion Wyeth asked his sitter to wear his favorite clothes-Eisenhower chose a straw-colored, nubby silk jacket -- and placed him before an empty background. Wyeth presented the president as a strong-minded individual with the quiet strength of a dedicated public servant. These characteristics are similarly captured in Wyeth’s The Patriot, 1964 (private collection), a bust portrait of an elderly soldier. The response to the portrait was divided. In letters printed in successive issues of Time, members of the public characterized it as both undistinguished and striking. Recalling that his staff had criticized it, Eisenhower remarked that he was one of the few people in the White House who liked the portrait. The portrait is painted in several techniques typical of Wyeth. He blocked out the basic forms in a wet, very transparent watercolor, leaving the background unfinished. In the jacket the paint was vigorously applied to convey the rough texture of the material. Only the face is carefully delineated, with many tiny strokes of opaque pigment applied to model the head. Richard Nixon admired the portrait very much and borrowed it for an extended period during his presidency.
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Bibliography

  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.