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George W. Bush’s Paintings of World Leaders to Go On Display at Conservative Conference

The former president’s “Art of Leadership” series features portraits of Merkel, Blair, Putin and other influential politicians

(Painting by President George W. Bush. Photo by Grant Miller)
smithsonian.com

It’s a busy time for former President-turned-painter George W. Bush. Back in March, Bush debuted his portraits of wounded American soldiers at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That exhibition is still ongoing, but Bush will soon receive a second solo show. As Henri Neuendorf reports for Artnet News, the 43rd president’s portraits of world leaders are slated to go on display, for one day only, at a conservative conference in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Attendees of the Freedom Conference and Festival, which brings together conservative and libertarian thinkers, will have the chance to explore Bush’s “Art of Leadership” series on August 25. First displayed in 2013, the collection features Bush’s portraits of world leaders he met while in office—among them Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, Hamid Karzai, and Vladimir Putin.

The show was organized by the Steamboat Institute, an educational non-profit. “[Bush] was really putting himself out there and taking a personal risk with these paintings, not knowing what people would think of them,” Jennifer Schubert-Akin, the organization’s CEO, told John Wenzel of the Denver Post.

The show is only accessible to conference registrants, who paid upward of $350 for a ticket. Schubert-Akin told Wenzel that she “would have loved” to open the show to the public, but doing so did not seem feasible. “[I]t would have added to the security costs, and we wouldn’t have known how many people were going to show up,” she said. “We’ve only got 8 hours to display [the paintings].”

It is not inconceivable that Bush’s art would have drawn large crowds. The former president’s work has been surprisingly well-received since his hobby was revealed with the leak of two self-portraits depicting the artist sans clothing. Bush’s paintings of wounded veterans, which were published in a book titled Portraits of Courage, drew particularly strong praise from critics.

“No matter what you think of George W. Bush, he demonstrates in this book and in these paintings virtues that are sadly lacking at the top of the American political pyramid today: curiosity, compassion, the commitment to learn something new and the humility to learn it in public,” Philip Kennicott wrote in the Washington Post. The book quickly shot to the top of multiple best-seller’s lists.

In February, Bush told Eli Watkins and Jamie Gangel of CNN that he started painting because he wanted to discover his “inner Rembrandt.” While we may not see Bush’s work hanging in the Met anytime soon, his paintings have intrigued viewers from across the political spectrum.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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