As President Barack Obama leaves office, the term "legacy" gets tossed about frequently. It is apparent that his political legacy will be shaped by party affiliation. The incoming president has declared an assault on President Obama's legacy with repeal and reversal of laws and executive actions ("Trump arrives in Washington with a wave and a salute," Jan. 19). There will remain a component of Mr. Obama's legacy that will be beyond the reach of his critics and enemies, the White House presidential portrait. Since George Washington, there have been oil paintings of the outgoing president rendered for hanging on the mansion's hall. In the country's first century, we knew the appearance of our presidents by way of these paintings.
By the mid-nineteenth century, photography replaced paintings to capture and preserve images of people. Curiously, the camera had no impact on the tradition of displaying the visage of our presidents in oils. The problem I have with this practice is not the medium but the quality of the product. With few exceptions, these portraits have been pedestrian renderings of the Norman Rockwell genre, not truly works of art. Had the curators of the White House displays been more art savvy, the walls could have rivaled any gallery in the world. We could have commissioned some of America's great painters — James Whistler, George Bellows, Thomas Eakins, Andrew Wyeth, Mary Cassatt or Edward Hopper to name a few.
My hope is that Mr. Obama, the most photographed president in our history, will make a dramatic departure from this mundane tradition of oil paintings. Let him mark his place on the mansion's wall that speaks to the twenty-first century. Employing cutting edge photographic technology, order a stunning 3D portrait. Why not have a holographic image installed. Would an abstract Expressionist portrait be too jarring for the Daughters of the American Revolution? How about a collage portrait in the Romare Bearden style? What about mounting a painting of Mr. Obama made with tempera paint by a 10-year-old? If these suggestions are too "out of the box," we could stick with the script with a twist. Have former President George W. Bush, now a capable painter, render a portrait of Mr. Obama in oils. What serendipity!.