Art for the President's House--An Historical Perspective

Zachary Taylor's daughter gave a portrait of her father. A descendant of Martin Van Buren's bequeathed a marble bust of him, as well as an elegant oil portrait of his daughter-in-law and hostess, Angelica Singleton Van Buren (at right). [Angelica

Members of Abraham Lincoln's family presented portraits of both Lincoln and his wife. Theodore Roosevelt's family gave a black and white illustration by Frederic Remington that features one Roosevelt's adventures.

In 1963 the family of John F. Kennedy contributed a painting by French Impressionist Claude Monet [Monet's Morning on the
Seine]as a tribute to President Kennedy's great love of the out of doors.

These gifts from presidential families, however, account for only a small number of works acquired over the years. More recently the growth of the fine arts collection has depended heavily on the generosity of the American public, and today the Executive Mansion houses nearly 450 examples of painting and sculpture.

A number of works by important artists--Jasper Cropsey, William Glackens, and Maurice Prendergast among them--have been given by their descendants. Other individuals too have become participants in the national collecting enterprise, securing works of art for the "house owned by all the American people." One donor, upon learning that the Executive Mansion wanted to acquire a particular view of the Rocky Mountains by Albert Bierstadt, purchased it, placed it on loan, and eventually gave it to the collection. When a newspaper reported that the White House had been the unsuccessful bidder for a genre scene by George Caleb Bingham, a citizen of the artist's home state, Missouri, offered a contribution. He donated a share in the river scene by Bingham that he owned, and funds from a second donor completed the purchase. Aware of President Jimmy Carter's admiration of William M. Harnett's Cincinnati Enquirer (at left, below), on loan to the White House, a donor bought it for the collection. [Harnett's Cincinnati 

[Back one page] [Continue]