Entertainment & Arts

Bill Clinton portrait features shadow of Lewinsky dress, says artist

William Jefferson Clinton, Lawrence M. Small
Former President Clinton and Lawrence M. Small, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, unveil his portrait, featuring the shadow of a dress over the fireplace, in 2006.
(Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associate Press)

A portrait of former President Clinton in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington contains a subtle reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that engulfed the White House in the late ‘90s, the portrait’s painter has revealed.

Pennsylvania artist Nelson Shanks told the Philadelphia Daily News in a Sunday article that the painting features a shadow on its left-hand side, and that the shadow was actually cast by a blue dress that was placed on a mannequin.

“The reality is [Clinton’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,” the artist told the newspaper.

Shanks said that the mannequin was present while he was creating the portrait, but not while Clinton was posing. 


He added that the dress "represents a shadow on the office [Clinton] held, or on him." 

Lewinsky’s blue dress was a focal point of the Clinton scandal, which first broke in 1998. In sworn testimony, the president initially denied that he had had sexual relations with the White House intern, who at the time of the encounters was 22. 

After Lewinsky submitted a blue dress with a semen stain, Clinton publicly admitted that he had an improper “physical” relationship with the intern. Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted in a subsequent Senate trial.

Shanks is a prolific portrait artist whose subjects include Pope John Paul II and the late Princess Diana. 


The National Portrait Gallery contains numerous paintings of Clinton that are rotated on a regular basis. 

In the Philadelphia Daily News article, the artist claims that the Clintons are unhappy with the portrait and have pressured the National Portrait Gallery to remove it. But a spokeswoman for the gallery said this isn’t true.

“Nobody has asked us to remove the portrait," Bethany Bentley, head of communications and public affairs at the National Portrait Gallery, told The Times on Tuesday. She added that the painting was unveiled in 2006 and that it isn’t on display for public viewing.

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