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A thick veil of mystery swaths the Donald J. Trump Foundation and its many transactions, but a recent investigation has determined that its wispy-haired founder once spent $20,000 of his charity’s money to purchase a portrait for his own keeping. As reported by the Washington Post‘s David A. Fahrenthold, the painting depicts none other than Trump himself and stands at a whopping six feet tall. The revelation is part of the Post‘s big examination of the foundation’s troubling money-handling habits, including dives into its tax filings and interviews with over 200 parties listed as donors or beneficiaries. In addition to the painting, the Trump Foundation paid $12,000 for an autographed football helmet for the Republican presidential nominee’s personal gain.
The painting purchase, at a 2007 charity auction held at Mar-a-Lago, was as spontaneous as you could get: the artwork didn’t even exist until minutes before bids were taken, emerging as one of the night’s many creations by self-proclaimed “original speed painter” Michael Israel. To raise money for a children’s charity, Israel also painted portraits of John Lennon, Einstein, and other famous figures. When he finished his rendition of Trump, it was Melania who made the financial move on her husband’s portrait, with a starting bid of $10,000.
“She was actually very gracious when she started bidding, and everyone else stopped,” Israel told Hyperallergic. “The auctioneer called it to her attention that no one was bidding against her and said she should double the bid, and she did.”
Israel describes his method of painting as a performance: his act — typically booked for charities or corporate events — consists of rapidly daubing paint on canvas with both hands, at times even spinning the work around while brandishing brushes. Sessions are lively, often augmented by flashing lights and hit songs — here he is painting along to “Born to Run” before a screaming audience. The often streaky results, according to Israel, typically fetch between thousands of dollars to as high as a quarter million.
While tax filings record Trump’s illicit use of his foundation’s money, the painting’s whereabouts are unknown. Israel told the Post he believes it “went to one of [Trump’s] golf courses”; he retains no accessible photographic evidence of it, as any pictures he took “are stored on a computer that stopped functioning years ago,” he told Hyperallergic.
“It looks like Donald Trump,” he said simply about his work, which depicts only the face of the businessman–turned–TV personality–turned–politician. Completed in mere minutes, Israel’s portrait was made under vastly different circumstances than those of “The Entrepreneur,” a full-bodied image of the Donald by Ralph Wolfe Cowan, commissioned at $24,000. In that work, Cowan deliberately left one of his subject’s hands unpainted, which caused Trump to chase the artist for 15 years to “finish.”
If you happen to have an image of Israel’s six-foot-tall painting of Trump or know where it resides, drop us a line.
Update, 9/21: Univision news anchor Enrique Acevedo has found the painting on the wall of Trump’s resort:
— Enrique Acevedo (@Enrique_Acevedo) September 21, 2016