After the end of each presidency, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. commissions an artist to produce what becomes an official likeness of a former Commander in Chief. Today, artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald made history as their respective portraits of former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were unveiled to much anticipation and fanfare.
For the first time, a portrait of a black person will find its home in the Gallery’s hall of presidents. There, Obama’s portrait will have some interesting company. Some of the more memorable ones include Elaine de Kooning’s figurative impressionist portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Chuck Close’s abstract portrait of Bill Clinton.
Nothing, however, tops the Gallery’s portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which, having begun as a study for an abandoned group painting, includes five painted studies of the president’s disembodied hands. Check it out:
The portrait originally began as a study for a group painting of the president with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at the 1945 Yalta Conference. When Stalin refused to sit for the portrait, the artist, Douglas Chandor, decided to go ahead with painting FDR anyway and included a bunch of extra hands probably (I’m guessing) because he had a lot of hand sketches that were too good to give up.
With the left hand that is actually attached to his cape-wearing body, FDR is holding a lit cigarette in a holder and rocking a big ass pinkie ring. The 1945 painting by Chandor could pass as easily as a picture of a speakeasy owner turned dalmatian poacher as it does for one of a former U.S. president. So while Wiley’s portrait is a historical landmark and an invaluable contribution to our nation’s cultural riches, it still only has one pair of hands.