The nation just can't get enough of blue dresses, can it?
No sooner had the furor over a blue-and-black dress (or is it gold and white?) subsided than painter Nelson Shanks sparked his own kerfuffle in an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News. Asked if any commissions had been particularly challenging, the veteran celebrity portraitist—he also painted Ronald Reagan and Princess Diana, among others—named his presidential portrait of Bill Clinton:
Clinton was hard. I'll tell you why. The reality is he's probably the most famous liar of all time. He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting.
If you look at the left-hand side of it there's a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things. It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.
And so the Clintons hate the portrait. They want it removed from the National Portrait Gallery. They're putting a lot of pressure on them.
There is, as they say, a lot to unpack here. Is Clinton really the most famous liar of all time? (Um.) Is it impressive commitment to verisimilitude or just weird that Shanks used an actual blue dress to produce the shadow? How did the Clintons figure out the secret code when no one else had? And are they really pushing the Portrait Gallery to remove it?
The answer to the last query is simple, according to a spokesperson for the National Portrait Gallery: no. Bethany Bentley said the Clintons have done no such thing. And she noted that the painting isn't exactly the single, definitive Clinton portrait. There are some 55 Clinton images in the gallery's collection, and they're occasionally rotated on and off view. While one formal portrait is always on display, that's currently Chuck Close's likeness—an image that manages to be at once both more abstract and more staid and straightforward.