In a recent blog article we noted that former President George W. Bush took up painting as a pastime once he retired from the White House. He isn’t the only presidential painter, though. Ulysses S. Grant was an avid painter, as is Jimmy Carter. And then there’s Dwight Eisenhower.
Best known as a 5-star General during World War II and our 34th President, Ike had a softer aesthetic side. He didn’t discover his interest in painting, however, until he was well into his adulthood. As the story goes, he was sitting nearby while well-known artist Thomas Stephens painted a portrait of his wife Mamie. Stephens left the room for a few moments, and Ike picked up a brush and started his own painting on the side of a wooden box. Impressed with this bold gesture and Eisenhower’s apparent desire to paint, Stephens later sent him a full set of oils and brushes.
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At the time, Dwight Eisenhower was serving his first presidential stint, as head of Columbia University. He played around with the tools and materials Stephens had sent, but didn’t believe he had any talent. It was none other than Winston Churchill who convinced Ike to get serious. Churchill was a painter himself.
Eisenhower sometimes quipped that he was able to devote more time to painting during his tenure in the White House than afterward, because his time was so efficiently scheduled. He set aside space on the second floor to use as a painting studio and reportedly spent 10 minutes painting every day before lunch during his two terms as President. Friends said he would spend great lengths of time working to achieve exactly the right color as he worked.
ONE OF SEVERAL OF EISENHOWER'S PAINTINGS OF HIS FAMILY'S FARM IN GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA
Dwight D. Eisenhower produced about 260 paintings during his lifetime. Most were landscapes. He especially loved to do scenes of his family’s farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He liked to paint lakes with mountains or towns, and he even created some desert scenes. He also painted several portraits, including Mamie, his granddaughter Anne and a self-portrait.
He painted portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the latter during his first year as President. This painting now resides in a museum in Gettysburg. Eisenhower’s portrait of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein now belongs to the British Embassy in Washington, DC.
RARE OIL PAINTING OF TELEGRAPH COTTAGE, 12 MILES SOUTH OF LONDON, BY GENERAL DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, SIGNED "DE". THE GENERAL LIVED IN TELEGRAPH COTTAGE DURING WORLD WAR II AND THIS IS WHERE IKE PLANNED THE D-DAY INVASION - FOR THE PAST 25 YEARS, OF MAJOR-IMPORTANCE AND NOW PART OF THE RALEIGH DeGEER AMYX COLLECTION
New York’s Huntington Hartford Museum held a special showing of his work in 1967. At the opening, a reporter asked him about the symbolism of his paintings, and Eisenhower modestly retorted, “They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.”
But not everyone agreed with this self-effacing assessment of his work. At another exhibition of Eisenhower’s paintings -- this one at the Richard Nixon Library in 1990 – acting curator Amanda Fish said, “I think he was very good. I think people will be surprised.”
PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER SENT HIS PAINTING OF GEORGE WASHINGTON TO HALLMARK TO REPRODUCE AS A GIFT TO HIS WHITE HOUSE STAFF ca. 1954
One of Dwight Eisenhower’s early paintings is now part of the permanent collection of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. Entitled “Landscape in Switzerland,” the mountain scene was painted in 1958 by then-President Eisenhower. He gave the landscape to some friends, who bequeathed it to their niece. In 1983, she sold it to the LBJ Foundation through an auction house in Austin, Texas.
Although he often left paintings untitled and undated, Ike always signed them. Sometimes he used the initials DE, sometimes he used his last name.
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