Decorating the White House with Smithsonian Art

Continuing a Washington tradition, the Obamas selected artwork from the Smithsonian collections to hang in their historic home

The tradition of Smithsonian museums loaning art to the White House began in the 1940s. (iStockphoto)


The White House
(Maura McCarthy)

Lending art to the White House is nothing new for Smithsonian museums. In the 1940s, when the tradition began, the museums had a growing collection of artworks and limited gallery space. The White House walls provided another outlet for displaying art.

In 1961, Jackie Kennedy borrowed The Smoker by French painter Eugène Delacroix to hang in the Red Room. Lady Bird Johnson borrowed watercolors and drawings from the Institution, which she hung in executive offices. And the Clintons borrowed two paintings, Folk Scene and Lift Up Thy Voice and Sing. by African-American painter William H. Johnson,—which remain in the White House today.

Nine works from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, as well as four additional works by William H. Johnson from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, are now on loan to the White House.


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