Gilbert Stuart, "George Washington," (c. 1821) (Image via Wikimedia)

Gilbert Stuart, “George Washington,” (c. 1821) (image via Wikimedia)

Congress will vote on a new tax and spending package Friday that is expected to put the brakes on President Obama’s health care law and repeal a 40-year-ban on crude oil exports. And in case you wondered, not a dime of the $1.14 trillion dollar package will go to oil portraits.

According to Politicopage 590 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act states, “None of the funds made available in this or any other act may be used to pay for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the federal government, including the president.”

It’s not new language, as it was also used in last year’s omnibus. But it echoes a growing push against using taxpayer dollars for commissioning oil portraits of elected officials. In January, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana introduced the Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Painting (EGO) Act in the US Senate to put a full stop to taxpayer-funded oil portraits. “Tax dollars should go to building roads and improving schools — not oil paintings that very few people ever see or care about,” he said. 

Currently, portraits of the president, first lady, and certain members of congress are privately funded, but citizens still pay for many other government officials to sit for oil portraits. The price tags can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars. Donald H. Rumsfeld’s portrait cost a whopping $46,790, while John Ashcroft and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s portraits cost $40,000 and $38,350, respectively.

It’s easy to understand the push against the practice, as it has been estimated that eliminating it could save some $500,000 a year. But such savings would come at the expense of a rich artistic tradition that is already suffering. As long as Uncle Sam is giving massive tax breaks to alpaca farmers, he might as well commission a few oil portraits a year.

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

6 replies on “No Money for Portrait Artists in Congress’s New Spending Package”

  1. There is something very wrong with your budget if you are faced with decisions like ” paintings v. roads”.

  2. Figures, it is the right wing of the GOP that is whining and worrying about this. They are among the most prolific wasters of tax payers dollars in history. They are also the ones that continue to lead the fight against allowing artists to deduction the value of their work donated to charity. My former rep Amo Houghton railed against his fellow conservatives after they voted against his bill to allow fair value tax breaks for artists. He cited how unfair it was for him, a wealthy man, to be able to donate an artwork to charity immediately after buying it and getting an arbitrary, often inflated, full value deduction from his taxes but the artist can only deduct the cost of materials. It is a non-stop criminal sham the GOP pulls on the arts every year. Shame on them.

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