In Brief

The Story of Trump’s Strange Dining Room Painting

One has to ask why Trump is having a drink with several dead people.

Leslie Stahl speaking with President Donald Trump with the painting visible between them (image via @jbillinson/Twitter)

It is fairly common knowledge that if Donald Trump likes an artwork, it’s usually about him. However, there is little we know about the White House’s current policies on exhibiting the government’s art collection in the president’s private quarters — unless, of course, you count a photoshopped image of his inauguration crowd and the electoral college map as art.

Sharp-eyed viewers of last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” newsmagazine on CBS may have noticed a kitschy gift-shop horror hanging above Trump’s personal dining room in the White House. Somehow, artist Andy Thomas’s “The Republican Club” traveled from the painter’s home state of California straight into the president’s heart.

Previously seen on jigsaw puzzle boxes around Washington DC, the nightmarishly hokey painting depicts the former reality television host among solidly Republican previous presidents. Theodore Roosevelt hovers above a sitting Trump — who’s looking more svelte here than he ever has in real life — while a nearby Richard Nixon smiles toward Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, George W. Bush gazes lovingly toward Trump as Abraham Lincoln, who the viewer sees from behind, appears to be conversing with Trump.

“The Republican Club” is part of Thomas’s series of politically bipartisan paintings, which include “The Democratic Club” and “Callin’ the Blue: Republican Presidents Playing Pool.” Critics have unfavorably compared Thomas’s work to Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s infamous and eternally-parodied “Dogs Playing Poker” painting series. Others have noted the similarly dull aesthetic style of Jon McNaughton’s overzealous right-wing oil paintings.

The Washington Post interviewed Thomas about how his painting ended up in the White House. He said that California Republican congressman Darrell Issa, whose portrait he had once painted, contacted Thomas’s wife to say that he was going to show the artist’s painting to President Trump. The congressman’s office confirmed this account in a statement saying,

Rep. Issa and Andy Thomas are indeed friends, and the Congressman has some of Andy’s fine work in his office. President Trump appreciates the art that Andy does and the Congressman did deliver the portrait to the White House.

“We had a real nice conversation,” Thomas recalls about his phone call with the president about the painting.

[He] said something like, “I’m in the Oval Office with Darrell Issa, who you know, and Vice President Pence. We’re looking at your painting. I’ve never seen this! Vice President Pence tells me they’re very well known.”

Image via @jbillinson/Twitter

When asked why even presidents like Richard Nixon were so positively portrayed, the artist said that he wants them all to be as good-looking as possible. The artist also paid special attention to the drinks of each president. President Trump drinks his favorite Diet Coke while Nixon sticks to wine. Ronald Reagan, whose father was an alcoholic, sticks to something more fruity.

One haunting aspect of “The Republican Club” is the ghostly female figure in the background to the left, a figure who Thomas says represents a future woman Republican president. He has included the same figure in his paintings of Democrat officeholders.

Actually, the dining room artwork is a high-quality laser print. Thomas says he kept the original painting for himself. Anyway, Trump seems to have a fondness for facsimiles. He famously tried to convince journalist Tim O’Brien that the clearly fake Renoir hanging in his private jet was real. (It isn’t. The true painting hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.) A false Time magazine cover featuring a stern-looking Trump crossing his arms also appeared in at least five of his golf clubs in 2017.

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