Donald Trump (photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Donald Trump (photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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.

Michael Israel and his paintings (photo via @michaelisraelart/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

Michael Israel and his paintings (photo via @michaelisraelart/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

“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:

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

29 replies on “Donald Trump Used His Foundation’s Money to Buy a Painting of Himself [UPDATED]”

  1. The article failed to explain exactly what was wrong with Trump using his foundation, which he funded with his money, to buy a painting in order to contribute to charity. The fact that the painting disappeared indicates to me that it was not actually an investment or serious purchase but merely a show to make a charitable contribution.

      1. People like RCCA thrive from thinking they have “secret information” to which the rest of us are somehow blind.

    1. If you read Fahrenthold’s articles, he explains that it’s illegal (per the IRS) to use foundation money for personal purchases, even if the money goes to a charity. In addition, he notes that the Trump Foundation is often simply acting as an intermediary, using money that was donated to the Trump Foundation by someone other than Trump.

      1. I don’t see how this case proves anything nefarious. I looked at some youtube videos of the artist who does these works as a theatrical performance. The performance is the art, the painting is basically a throw away imo. The “purchase” of the painting was never anything more than a donation.

        To suggest that Trump has embezzled money from the Foundation to benefit himself is absolutely false. And that’s what this article is suggesting.

        In contrast, the Clinton Foundation is a scheme where political favors and access to important contacts for business contracts were sold for donations and speaking fees.

        1. You wanted to know “exactly what was wrong with Trump using his foundation,” so I explained: it’s illegal under IRS rules. Your personal opinion about it is legally irrelevant. What matters legally are the actual IRS rules regulating foundation expenditures. It will be settled by the IRS and/or some other legal entity, perhaps with a fine, just as Trump was fined for illegally using foundation money to donate to a group supporting Pamela Bondi.

          Embezzlement has a specific legal definition, and this is not an example of embezzlement, nor did the author suggest otherwise.

        2. “the Clinton Foundation is a scheme where political favors and access to important contacts for business contracts were sold for donations and speaking fees.”
          What utter nonsense.

          1. So you think the Russian company that bought 20% of US uranium rights which required the special approval of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, just decided to invite Bill Clinton to speak and pay him $500K for his brilliant repartee. You should also look into the Clinton Foundation and how they totally ripped off Haiti relief for the benefit of their cronies.

          2. “required the special approval of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton”
            EVIDENCE?? Clinton had nothing to do with the deal. The deal had to be approved by representatives of NINE U.S. agencies. The rep for the State Dept was not Hillary Clinton – it had nothing to do with her and even if she knew about it (which there is no evidence she did), are you suggesting she had the power to make the Depts of Defense, Energy, Treasury and several others do her bidding just so Bill could make a speech?

          3. Nothing to do with it? Wrong. Why don’t you use your brain and do some research: “The New York Times, … wrote an article April 23 that said the Clinton Foundation failed to publicly disclose millions in contributions it received from investors who stood to profit from the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian-based company with uranium mining stakes in the West, to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy agency. …

            That sale was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States in October 2010, giving Russia control over 20 percent of uranium production in the United States, according to the Times.”
            Clinton was on the committee to make that approval. She had a previous record of being tough on selling US assets, but not this time.

          4. Your factcheck link completely contradicts and debunks your statements. Maybe you should check your links before posting them. The Clinton Foundation is completely transparent, one reason it gets top ratings by charity watch orgs. As you yourself said, this concerned the Canadian branch – which legally CANNOT disclose donors.

          5. Didn’t contradict it, just presented a balanced view. Which is something you are incapable or unwilling to do. I’d go with incapable. And no, they are not transparent. They were not rated for years by Guidestar for example, because their practices were so “unusual.”

          6. Guidestar gives it a Platinum rating, so I very much doubt they have a problem with its transparency.
            You may be referring to Charity Navigator which stopped rating the Foundation because their practices didn’t fit Charity Navigator’s rating model, and also based on unsubstantiated newspaper gossip – which in the end came to nothing, like everything else, so they then awarded the Foundation 4/4 stars.
            You used the factcheck article to prove your claim “Clinton was on the committee to make that approval” – as stated in the article, she was NOT on the committee and was not involved in the deal.

          7. Guidestar only listed them in the last few months. I know because I was checking it. If you are OK with these shenanigans that’s your choice.

          8. And just so there is no confusion, the deal was followed up by an invitation to Bill Clinton to give a $500.K speech, to show their appreciation. 😉 All they needed was one veto, and they made sure she didn’t want to do that.
            All legal, of course.

          9. Well sure, Michael Cohen said the Foundation raised “hundreds of millions of dollars for a hospital in Haiti… that was never built”. Anyone can say anything, can’t they. In fact, it was nonsense pulled out of thin air. The Foundation put in millions to Haiti (nothing to do with any alleged unbuilt hospital), like many other aid relief agencies. And like those other agencies, they did a great deal of good while a few projects didn’t pan out. Charities don’t get A ratings for being corrupt.

          10. Except that the Foundation didn’t “steal billions”. Haiti had massive problems before the earthquake – there was and is no easy fix – and the Clinton Foundation along with many other charities helped immensely. Perhaps try a different source for your info than “Clinton Cash”.

          11. I didn’t claim that the Clinton Foundation stole billions. Accusing me falsely doesn’t refute the claims of Clinton wrongdoing. The fraud and corruption are well documented in many sources, only you refuse to acknowledge the facts. Not declaring the donations from foreign countries while Hillary was SOS was not transparent, violated her promises. They did not do right by Haiti. If that’s the best they could do, they don’t have the expertise you’d like to believe they have.

            Here are some other sources:
            The King and Queen of Haiti – POLITICO Magazine

            Haitian Senate President Exposes Clinton Foundation: “Hillary Clinton Tried To Bribe Me!”

            The Washington Post did a puff piece, google it.

          12. You posted a headline claiming the Clinton Foundation stole billions – why post the headline if you didn’t agree with it? Very odd.
            The Foundation has the highest ratings from 2 charity watch organizations, higher than the Red Cross. No complex organization is perfect, but it has helped millions throughout the world and the Clintons have not personally profited a cent. There is no scandal there.
            Now can you say the same thing about the Trump Foundation, a useless scam that Trump thinks makes him look charitable even though he doesn’t donate to it, and twice used to buy expensive personal gifts?

          13. Regarding foreign donations and the agreement signed when she became Secretary of State, I refer you to this excellent Politifact article, which delves into the complexities:
            When you write “Not declaring the donations from foreign countries while Hillary was SOS…” and call it “well-documented fraud and corruption”, that completely misrepresents the facts. The article goes through all the examples and there is zero evidence of corruption. A couple of oversights with no intention of fraud, a thousand Canadian donors who could not legally be named, and the rest are non-events regardless of Clinton Cash trying to spin them another way.

          14. Oh please, I just looked at the list from Politifact — hidden in the list — Pres. Clinton was/is constantly wheeling and dealing for funds, there have been donations from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, (tens of millions of dollars) and they neglected to notify the State Department of their new contributors. (And this article doesn’t mention it. Bogus.) The article mentions Algeria, another much smaller contributor as undisclosed. I see they have an updated article which does mention it a month later after people complained about their shoddy work.
            This is what happens when you have a biased media. They bend over backwards to protect the Clintons.
            Another way to look at this are the speaking fees that Bill Clinton received after Hillary became Secretary of State. His rates exploded. Check it out Nothing wrong with that of course.

          15. Why do you call it “wheeling and dealing for funds”? It’s called fund-raising, which is Bill Clinton’s PURPOSE in that charity. He’s using his status as ex-President for a worthy purpose and they donated $1m of their money last year into their Foundation.
            Middle Eastern countries donate billions to all kinds of foreign charities and the CF listed these donations. No hiding it, no scandal. Saudi Arabia donated NOTHING during the time Clinton was SoS – as that second article makes clear, so you appear to be deliberately muddying the waters as she was only required to report foreign donors during her time as SoS. Again, no scandal. Nothing to see.

    2. There are rules for foundations. A favorite ploy is what you’ve done which is to argue from the end to the origin. There’s a lot wrong. As a bona fide foundation, expenditures of funds are not impulses but deliberations and there should be a board of some sort involved. Sorry- that’s how it is. You said it yourself. It wasn’t an investment or serious purchase but merely a charitable donation. Hmm. The location of the painting is crucial.

      1. He probably tossed it out. That’s my bet. There was no fraud here, as if he used someone else’s money to benefit himself.

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